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Batten down the geomagnetic hatches.

Forecasters warn of a geomagnetic storm. The FAA is preparing an EIS for Starship launches from Florida. Las Vegas prepares for a spaceport. And more.




Forecasters warn that a geomagnetic storm is expected to impact the Earth this weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of issuing a commercial launch Vehicle Operator License for proposed SpaceX Starship operations at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Clark County has approved plans for the first phase of construction for a Las Vegas spaceport, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest is Rachel Tillman, Founder of The Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project.

You can connect with Rachel on LinkedIn and learn more about the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project on their website.

Selected Reading

'Severe Geomagnetic Storm' May Hit Earth Today: Everything You Need to Know


SpaceX Starship-Super Heavy Project at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A

Starlink On Track to Hit $6.6B in Revenue This Year, Quilty Report Estimates - Via Satellite

Construction can start on first phase of Las Vegas Spaceport

NASA Glenn Looking to Lease Facilities

NASA Administrator to Engage Officials in Italy, Vatican, Saudi Arabia

Pakistan's orbiter ICUBE-Q beams back first image from lunar orbit

ASLI Announces Colloquium Series on African Space Program

Should commercial space companies contribute to the FAA the way airlines do? : NPR

MDA Space Announces 2024 Annual And Special Meeting Results And New Board Chair Appointment

Awards — Women's Aerospace Network


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Is it time to batten down the geomagnetic hatches?

A barrage of solar storms is indeed heading our way this weekend, and those storms can disrupt our planet's wonderful and protective magnetic field.

Lots of headlines out there today about what the most powerful solar storm in nearly two decades could mean for the power grids, radios, auroras, and all those spacecraft up in Leo and Geo.

But let's take a closer look.

What are we likely to experience and not experience this weekend?

Well, to quote everybody's favorite hitchhiker's guide, don't panic.

Don't panic.

But why are we always talking about solar storms, Maria?

Why are we always talking about solar storms, Alice?

Because it's such a hot topic.


Slam dunk!

Today is May 10th, 2024.

I'm Maria Varmasus.

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

[Music] Forecasters warn of a geomagnetic storm heading our way.

The FAA is preparing an EIS for Starship launches from Florida.

Las Vegas prepares for their first spaceport.

And our guest today is Rachel Tillman.

Maria will be talking to Rachel about the Viking Mars missions, education, and preservation projects to stay with us for that.

Happy Friday, Alice, and happy Friday, everybody.

So let's dive into our briefing for today.

And yeah, you can expect to hear stories about increased solar activity and aurora over the next few months, if not year.

Our sun's 11-year-long sunspot cycle is approaching its peak.

And sometimes, although we still can't quite predict exactly when, powerful sunspots create gorgeous cresting wave-like prominences called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.

And CMEs can send a whole lot of space weather our way in the form of powerful X-rays, plasma, and directed magnetic fields.

It all collides with our planet's magnetic field, and then we end up with a geomagnetic storm.

And depending on how severe the storm is, we could see disruptions to electrical systems on the ground, and of course, satellites in orbit, especially the ones further out that have less of Earth's magnetic field sheathing them from harm.

And this weekend's geomagnetic storm, expected to impact us the most Friday night through May 11th, is basically several CMEs combining into one, which makes the severity of the storm a G4 on a scale of 1 to 5.

We haven't had a G4 storm since 2005, and there weren't nearly as many satellites in orbit as there are now, so this weekend could be a very interesting one for satellite providers.

So is it time to evacuate to your missile silo prepper cave and open those dusty cans of beans?

Are we going to see satellites falling out of the sky?


Could it frazzle some GPS signals, satellite communications, potentially disrupt terrestrial electrical grids and radio signals?

Yeah, it's certainly possible.

Side benefit, lots of us may get to see pretty auroras over the weekend, so keep your eyes to the skies and hope for low cloud cover.

And if you want a great deep dive into the science of solar maximums, solar storms, and space weather, definitely check out my chat with Dr.

Elena Hyde on our March 6th, 2024 show, which would be episode number 228.

One tidbit I found fascinating from that chat is that while increased solar activity does mean more solar flares and aurora and often more CMEs, it doesn't mean that the gnarly CMEs only happen during solar maximums.

They can actually happen at any time.

Yeah, that surprised me too.

So listen to that episode for more on that, and we've added the link in our show notes.


Now, the Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of issuing a commercial launch vehicle operator license for proposed SpaceX Starship operations at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX is looking to move its super heavy rocket from Boca Chica, Texas, and is planning to build out infrastructure to support up to 44 launches per year from Launch Complex 39A.

They're proposing that the super heavy booster and Starship vehicle recovery land at 39A or an adroinship, or even in the ocean.

Now the FAA will hold two in-person public scoping meetings on June 12th and a third on June 13th.

In addition, one virtual public scoping meeting will be held on June 17th.

The comments about the proposal can be submitted to the FAA from May 10th to June 24th.

Quilty Space has released a report estimating that SpaceX's Starlink business is on track to hit $6.6 billion in revenue in 2024.

Now Quilty Space provides subscription-based satellite and space sector business intelligence for strategy, policy, business development, M&A, and investment.

And they say that they conducted an in-depth analysis into Starlink financials, which are not publicly reported.

The report is not based on financial information provided by SpaceX, so it is subject to a lot of uncertainties.

We do think that Starlink, however, is on track for another great year financially, and we look forward to official reports when they're made public.

And congratulations to our friends at Las Vegas Spaceport.

Clark County has approved plans for the first phase of construction for the proposed spaceport just outside of the city.

The construction will start with an airstrip, which the spaceport plans to use for air races, an airport, and ultimately a spaceport.

The proposed private spaceport sits on 240 acres in Clark County.

The airstrip would occupy about 40 acres of that site.

The developer estimates cost to be about $310 million to build a launch pad, a runway for space planes, a control tower, a flight score, and of course, given the location, a 200-room casino resort.

Of course.

And speaking of facilities, NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is offering opportunities to lease assets that it no longer uses.

NASA is offering enhanced use lease agreements to allow space, aeronautics, and other related industries to use Glenn land and facilities in direct support of NASA's mission.

It's an arrangement that NASA believes could bring some of the best minds in aerospace closer together, spurring innovation.

Glenn identified four facilities in Cleveland and one in Sandusky, Ohio, that will be considered under the EUL authority.

They include a cryogenics component lab, an altitude combustion stand, an administration building, a 2.2 second drop tower, and a flight research building.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson is on a tour of Italy and Vatican City, Lucky Man, and then will be heading to Saudi Arabia.

Nelson left for his tour on Thursday and plans to meet with key government and space officials in each country.

In Italy, he plans to discuss the Artemis campaign to return to the moon, partnership on the International Space Station, the exploration of Mars and Venus, and Earth science missions to study our home planet.

In Saudi Arabia, Nelson will meet with the Saudi Space Agency and other senior officials to discuss future collaboration and underscore the importance of civil space cooperation for the broader US and Saudi relationship.

And we've got an update now from China's Chang'e 6 mission, specifically from its Pakistani-led payload.

The iCube Q has beamed back its first image from lunar orbit, marking a significant milestone in the country's space program.

Chinese officials formally presented the first image to Pakistani ambassador Khalil Hajmi.

They say that the satellite is now in its fixed lunar orbit and is operating within specific parameters.

The Africa Space Leadership Institute is holding an academic conference series focusing on the African Outer Space Programme later this month.

This forum comes as the African Union enters into another phase of implementation of the Africa Space Agency.

The first conference in the series has the theme "Education, Skills Development" and workforce engagement for a responsive, competitive and sustainable space programme, and will be held virtually later this month on May 21 and 22.

And that concludes our briefing for this Friday.

We've included two extra reports in our selected reading section of the show notes.

One is from NPR asking if commercial space companies should contribute to the FAA, just as the airlines do, and another is an announcement from MDA Space.

Hey T-miners crew, tune in tomorrow for T-miners Deep Space.

Tomorrow's show for extended interviews, special editions and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry.

Tomorrow we have David Thomas talking about international education programmes by the Milo Space Science Institute.

Check it out while you're appreciating all the mums in your life.

Make sure you go and do that please, as mums we can totally say we want to be appreciated.

And you don't want to miss the show.

Our guest is Rachel Tillman, founder of the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project.

Rachel started by telling me more about the history of the Viking Mars mission.

The mission itself launched in 1975 and landed on the surface of Mars after being in orbit for a number of days in 1976.

So July 20th, 1976, it did not land on July 4th, which was the intended date, but instead we had to do a re-certification, a re-site certification, because the orbiters of Viking were vastly greater than those of Mariner 9, which was used to select the original landing sites.

So during the orbit entry date and the landing date, the teams kicked into high gear to do re-certification of not just one Viking lander, but two, because we launched two vehicles, two orbiters, and had two landers ready to perform immense amounts of science, without the atmosphere and the surface of Mars.

So I call it six out of six, because the launch vehicles are equally important, Titan 3E with a Centaur Front.

And so many people collaborated to work on that, not just NASA.

Most NASA missions are about 10 to 20, maybe 30 percent NASA, and the other 70 to 90 percent are actually not NASA employees.

They are scientists like my father at the University of Washington, colleges and universities and educational institutes all across the world, not just in the United States.

So it was a multinational mission, despite the fact that it was not represented that way.

And the basis of the science instrumentation design, the landing and EDL, the atmospheric data that we had during the process of actually flying to Mars and entering, were all supplemented by individuals from all around the world, including at the time the Soviet Union, who, despite the Cold War, the scientists were surreptitiously communicating back and forth to each other.

And we even have letters from the Soviet Union, Mars 3 team members saying, "Hey, we just had our attempt to land.

This is what we've learned."

Yada yada.

So incredible collaboration all across the globe to make these missions six out of six.

That's amazing.

And I know with all these missions, especially these early missions, it's kind of hard to be like, "Give me a high level of what we learned because we learned so much and we always do."

But, I mean, if you had to give it like a headline, here's what we got out of the Vikings.

What did we learn?

What did we take away from them?

It was represented by the media as the search for life on Mars.

And that's wrong in so many ways because, number one, we weren't searching for life.

We were searching for biologic organics.

So those of us who are in the science world, we get kind of geeky about this.

And we don't use words like "soil," which has the implications of actually having extant organics, biological organics.

We use the word "regolith" because we didn't know at that time.

So we were looking for biological organics, but we were also trying to understand the elemental characteristics of the planet, including the physical properties.

We used an X-ray fluorescent system to examine the minerals on the surface.

We used my father's and his team, of course, or the Seymour Hesse's team, which my father served on, to study the atmospheric sciences.

So the temperature, the humidity, the wind speed, all kinds of detailed science.

We had two seismometers, one on each lander, and they're incredibly sensitive instruments.

If you looked at them, you would notice that one of the most important parts of it is a very psycho- I don't know what point, one micron wire that goes between these two things.

It looks a bit like those toothpick things to help you flush your teeth now. [laughter] Very much like that.

Plus for a reference.

And the only instrument that had any issues upon landing was one seismometer out of all of the instruments.

So we had GCMS, which was the chemical properties, the biology instruments, of which there were three.

Again, we had imaging, we had X-ray fluorescence, we had radio technologies that were being tested at the time.

We had both a high band antenna and, so an S band and a low gain antenna.

So we were actually studying how do we communicate with things that are on Mars?

Can we communicate both directly and indirectly through the orbiters and without the orbiters from point to point, we successfully did both.

The amount of things that we learned was immense just from a scientific standpoint.

However, the equally important piece of Viking was the engineering discoveries, and that included almost all elements of the EDL, the entry descent and landing.

So the Vikings actually created the disc gap band parachute, which is the only parachute that successfully could withstand the forces of descent after the pyrotechnic separation from the aeroshell.

The initial part of the landing was with the aeroshell, which was turned not just into a protective heat shield, which is what aeroshells were in the past, but was actually turned into an aerobraking system using ablative technologies so that the force of the entry, the speed was reduced by turning that force into the ablation of materials on the exterior side of the shell, and that itself decelerated until it reached a point at which the parachutes could then handle the capacity of the remaining force to be deployed and then slow down the lander additionally until we came to the third element of the EDL, and that was the very first throttleable autonomous AI intelligent landing systems before origin, before SpaceX. 1976, right?

Yeah, that's right.

We did all of those things, and those engineering precedents actually succeeded in setting the standard for all Mars entry, and it has been used in every mission since then, with the exception of Pathfinder, which tried out this other really fun landing system, which was the bouncy balloon.

The bouncy ball.

The bouncy ball, and that did work, but we did return to the Viking model after that.

Really those successes were not just scientific successes, but engineering, and that includes computing.

So the computing industry kind of grew up with Viking, and vice versa.

Well, no, it grew up with Viking.

Viking was a sequencer, not a parallel processor, so there were in fact no computers on board Viking.

It was a sequencer.

Okay, can you do, okay, you just got my computer science brain a little bit, like, okay, what do we mean by that?

Tell me a little more about that.

Sequencing is what it sounds like, right?

Sequencing is one command after another being processed, executed, waiting for another command.

Marlowe Frost's thing are multiple sequences occurring simultaneously, and if you're clever enough interacting with each other and influencing the next sequence.

Kind of what we think of as today.

Yeah, like kind of what we do today.

That's what we do today.

Everything we do today is parallel or more.

Much more, yeah.

We have quantum now.

We're way off the grill.

But interesting when even those advances came from Vikings, so the parallel processing technologies actually were developed by individuals that were working on the Viking computing systems.

I don't doubt it at all.

It's amazing.

Yeah, that's where a lot of those things were pushed forward, really.

Oh, yeah, CCDs and cameras, all kinds of things were developed from Viking and then have served other, both earthly and other planetary problem solving missions.

I love learning about these kinds of things through people like yourself who are putting in so much work.

And I mean, because this is not just, I mean, it is clearly also a personal thing for you, which I think is wonderful.

But you're also doing a ton of work.

I mean, aside from knowing all this stuff, you're also doing, I mean, the Viking preservation project, you sort of touched on a lot of what you're doing, a lot of that educational outreach.

But you mentioned early before we started recording that you do a lot of interviews with people who worked on the Viking.

So please tell me more about that.

Well, really, what I decided before founding the nonprofit itself was that if I'm going to preserve the history of the mission, what is the most important asset?

And that asset is the people that worked on it.

It's not the companies even, honestly.

The individuals that worked on Viking solved the problems, ran into challenges, collaborated, worked together, setting different organizational structures that have never been reproduced since then.

And so I decided early on that the most important thing I could do was collect as many oral histories as I possibly could before people pass away.

And in fact, many of my friends, this is one thing I did not anticipate was becoming very, very close friends with many of these individuals and then losing them.

That has been the biggest challenge of its mission.

But on the flip side, I had been incredibly fortunate to know these people, besides all the ones that I was around as a kid with my father, which there were many.

But since then, the friendships I've developed have been incredible, and they've all changed my life in many, many ways, just like my father did.

So recording their oral histories was the most important thing I could do, and I've done probably over 300 interviews at this point.

And I'm looking for people that worked on Viking in any capacity.

You do not have to be a rock star type A personality.

I did this.

In fact, if you're the person that doesn't talk about what you do, or if you know somebody that worked on Viking, call me, email me.

Let me know, because I want to hear from every single individual that worked on the mission.


The thing I often tell my six-year-old, because she's not really into space, but by merit of her mother being a nerd about this stuff, she's going to learn.

So the thing I'm just like, if you only remember one thing, kid, just remember that this takes so many people working so hard behind the scenes that often don't get acknowledged.

It's just like, it's a ton of teamwork and collaboration and problem solving by people that whose names we often not know.

And I feel like that's my only takeaway for her.

If she only remembers that one thing.

And for you, when you've done a lot of educational outreach, I've seen on the website, like you talk to a lot of kids, especially, what do you want them to know about Viking?

Like, what do you want them to take away from all this?

I think the most important thing to me about Viking, aside from the science and engineering that we already talked about.

Even the most important thing is that the people that worked on the mission were just like every single young person that is listening to this recording or looking at a different picture of Viking and wondering what it was or laying outside on their deck and looking at the stars and wondering why and how.

So the most important thing is to let that curiosity guide you and don't take no for an answer.

When adults say, oh, it can't be done because it hasn't been done before, one of my tag lines is there is nothing that cannot be done.

There are only things that have not been done yet.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

Back in March, we spoke to the lovely Holly Pascal who started the Women's Aerospace Network.

Go check out that chat on our website.

It was episode 233.

Anyway, one of the aims of the network was to celebrate the contributions by women to the space industry worldwide.

So Holly put out a call for the inaugural Women in Aerospace Awards.

And boy, did they get an amazing response.

It's amazing, isn't it?

And they include some friends of the show and past guests like Christina Kourt, Michelle Lucas, Pam Melroy, Divya Kala Bhavani from Druva Space and so many more that I just wouldn't know where to start with my vote.

And make that vote plural as there are five different categories that women have been divided into business, education and outreach, entrepreneurship, leadership and medicine and health.

The finalists will be selected based on a combination of open voting and through an evaluation panel.

So go and take a look at who's nominated and get voting.

Voting closes on May 24th with finalists announced by the end of this month.

And congratulations to all of the very worthy nominees.

Can I just say they need a media category next year so we can get voted on?

Your words to God's ears, Atlas.

That's it for Team I in Asperm May 10th, 2024, brought to you by N2K Cyberwire.

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This episode was produced by Alice Caruth.

Our associate producer is Liz Stokes.

We're mixed by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music by Elliot Peltzman.

Our executive producer is Jennifer Ivan.

Our executive editor is Brandon Karp.

Simone Petrella is our president.

Peter Kilpey is our publisher.

And I'm Ryo Varmausus.

Thanks for listening.

Have a great weekend and happy Mother's Day Alice.

And to you Maria.



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