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Keeping the Mars Sample Return Program alive.

NASA expands work with ESA on the ExoMars mission. Aerospacelab breaks ground on a megafactory. Spain appoints a new space agency head. And more.




NASA and ESA signed an agreement to expand NASA’s work on the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover. Aerospacelab has broken ground on its new manufacturing facility. Spain’s Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities has appointed Juan Carlos Cortés Pulido as the first director of the Spanish Space Agency, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Steve Taylor, President of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA).

You can find out more about ESRA and the Spaceport America Cup by visiting soundingrocket.org or on the Cup website.

Selected Reading

NASA, European Space Agency Unite to Land Europe’s Rover on Mars

Aerospacelab breaks ground on Europe's largest satellite manufacturing facility 

New Spanish Space Agency Chief Named - European Spaceflight

Tanzania plans to establish space agency, satellite in 2024/2025 fiscal year

Chinese state-backed company to launch space tourism flights by 2028- Reuters

LeoLabs Receives Order from NOAA's Office of Space Commerce to Continue Advancing the National Space Traffic Coordination System

Scout Space Awarded Contract to Develop Efficient Collision Analysis Framework

The Karman Project announces global space leaders selected for 2024 Fellowship

National Security Space Association's Moorman Center for Space Studies Paper Release: "Russia's Space-Based, Nuclear-Armed Anti-Satellite Weapon: Implications and Response Options"

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[MUSIC] We've harped on as of late that NASA's Mars sample return program is doomed, thanks to budget cuts. But as always, there's hope on the horizon to keep the Mars dreams alive. And this time it comes in the form of collaboration with our allies in Europe. Space is the ultimate team of sport after all. >> Yeah, Europe to the rescue. Maria, what is a meal on the moon called? >> A meal on the moon. Lunar, no, I don't know. I'm trying to think of like lunch and lunar and it's not really, I feel like it's gonna be really obvious when you say that. >> You're not there, it's a satellite dish. >> I was way off. [LAUGH] I bet there was a bunch of listeners just yelling at me as I was trying to figure it out going it's a satellite dish. I wasn't even in the right orbit. >> Boom, boom. [LAUGH] >> 20 seconds to ALOS. [MUSIC] >> Today is May 17th, 2024. I'm Maria Varmausus. >> I'm Alice Karuth and this is T-minus. [MUSIC] >> NASA expands work with ESA on the ExoMars mission. Aerospace Lab breaks ground on a mega factory. Spain appoints a new space agency head. >> And our guest today is Steve Taylor, president of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association on the upcoming Spaceport America Cup. It's an incredible competition and you will want to know more about it, so stay with us for that chat. [MUSIC] >> Happy Friday everybody. Let's get into our daily Intel briefing, shall we? And as we tease at the top of the show, NASA's Mars ambitions for the sample return program are very much still alive. They've signed an agreement with the European Space Agency to expand their involvement with the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover mission. That mission is heading to the red planet in 2028 and will be searching for signs of life on Mars with NASA support. NASA's Launch Services Program will procure a US commercial launch provider for the ESA-led rover. The US Space Agency will also provide heater units and elements of the propulsion system needed to land on Mars. A new instrument on the rover will be the first to drill to a depth of up to six and a half feet deep below the surface to collect ice samples that have been protected from surface radiation and extreme temperatures. Through separate partnerships with the German Aerospace Center and the French Space Agency CNES, NASA is contributing key components to the Rosalind Franklin rover's primary science instrument, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, that will search for the building blocks of life in the soil samples. The Mars sample return program at NASA, not dead yet, getting better. Maybe it'll go for a walk. The Algin Bay Satellite Company Aerospace Lab has broken ground on its new manufacturing facility. The mega factory is aiming to be Europe's largest with 7,000 square meters of production space and an additional 4,000 square meters of clean room. Aerospace Lab says it plans to manufacture 150 kilos to one tonne satellites with the capacity to produce up to 500 satellites a year. Manufacturing is scheduled to begin in 2026. Spain now has its first space agency director. The country's Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities has appointed Juan Carlos Cortes Pulido as the first director of the Spanish Space Agency, which was officially approved in March 2023. At the time it was announced, the agency was to have an initial staff of 75 and an annual budget of 700 million euros. Miguel Beromora served as the agency's acting director. In January 2024, however, Beromora accepted the role of executive chair for the UK based launch startup Orbex. This led to the launch of a nearly five month long selection process that was concluded by the appointment of Cortes. We wish him the best of luck in his new role. And it's always great to hear of countries taking new steps into the space community. And here's another to add to the list. Tanzania's Minister of Information, Communication and IT says that the nation is working on establishing their own space agency and is moving ahead with plans announced last year to launch their own satellite by 2025. Improving access to telecommunications, defense and security information and weather disaster data are some of the primary goals of the space agency and in Tanzania. Over to China now and commercial company CIS Space has announced that it plans to fly its first space tourism vehicle in 2027. The company says it'll transport people to the edge of space like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic's programs beginning commercial operations in 2028. CIS Space's vehicle design includes a tourist cabin that has four panoramic windows and can carry seven passengers per flight. The company plans to arrange a launch every 100 hours from a newly built aerospace theme park. Chinese state media reports that the cost of a ride will be around two to three million yuan and that's a little over four hundred thousand dollars. Gosh, that's even cheaper than Virgin and Blue Origin. We might have to go over to China, Maria. It's a deal. Yeah, let's do it. Leo Labs has received a second consolidated pathfinder order from NOAA's Office of Space Commerce to inform the Department of the Civil Lead US Traffic Coordination System for Space known as TRAX. The order enables Leo Labs to continue supporting the development of TRAX as the OSC extends the live data collection period of the Pathfinder project. The purpose of this extension is to explore additional opportunities to improve performance and conduct further analysis for metric validation. Scout Space has been selected by AF Works for a Ciber Phase 1 contract aimed at advancing space safety and operational effectiveness. Under this contract, Scout will develop a collision analysis framework designed to bolster real time spacecraft self protection capabilities for identifying, tracking and avoiding space collisions with debris. And the Carman Project has selected 15 global space leaders for the 2024 edition of the highly competitive Carman Fellowship Program. The Carman Fellowship is the flagship programme of the Nonprofit Foundation, which promotes cooperation through action. It works with leaders who are considered to be shaping the future of space, having been recognised for their outstanding accomplishments and their motivation to increase their impact for the betterment of the space sector and beyond. The 15 Fellows represent 13 nationalities and five continents and join a growing network of influential Carman grads. Congratulations to those selected. And that concludes our briefing for today. Stay with us for my chat with Steve Taylor about our favourite event of the year, the Spaceport America Cup. As always, you'll find links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned in the selected reading section of our show notes. You'll also find a research paper linked in there on Russia's space-based anti-satellite weapon. Hey T-miners crew, tune in tomorrow for T-miners 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 Sean Buckley talking about Sierra Space's habitats. Check it out while you're catching up on chores, being for a little walk or maybe even riding your bike. You don't want to miss it. [Music] The Spaceport America Cup is just about one month away and we're all getting pretty excited about it. With us today to talk about the world's largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition is none other than Steve Taylor, president of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association, which is the organization that makes the cup happen every year. I'm the president of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association. So rather than say that every time we call it Ezra, that's our easy acronym. I've been involved with the Spaceport American Cup since 2018 and I did launch operations for the cup and now finally the president. Well congratulations, it's great to speak with you Steve and thanks for joining me today. And yeah, what brings us together today is the cup, which is coming up pretty soon. I've had the privilege of speaking to a number of the student teams who are getting ready to come to New Mexico and they're all very excited. So I love this part of my job is speaking to all the students. It's quite an amazing event the cup. Teams from all over the world compete in this thing and we've got a total number of students that are actually involved is over 6,000 and of that 6,000 we end up with about almost 1,800 that actually come and participate at the event. So it's a big event and there's a lot of really talented engineering talent and really smart good kids that we love. I mean that's why I do it is to keep that amount of energy going because they just have so much energy. It's and I love seeing it. Every time I talk to someone from the team and they're telling me about their plans, I'm just like, "Oh, I want to be there with you. And you get to be there with them. Tell me about that. That's got to be just amazing." The event itself has grown over the few of these years. We're trying to make it, our goal is to make the event better every year. And the reason that we do it one is that we're obviously trying to mature the next group of aerospace engineers. And it's not just aerospace engineers. It's really a multi-disciplinary team that oftentimes it'll be business majors and there'll be project managers and mechanical and electrical and even chemical engineering sometimes in addition to the aerospace engineers. But boy, I'll tell you there, being around that energy is something that really, really, really gets me going. Because you know, the kids, well, they think differently. They approach problems differently than we do because they don't have the I'm going to say the years of experience, but it's really the novel way to approach a problem. Every time that I review another team, they've addressed the same problem 180 degrees different than the team that's right next door to them. So it's that energy. It's making sure that they have an outlet so that they can do this. And just enjoy the event and the multicultural side of it too. Because that's actually one of those things that we do a survey at the end of every cup. And we ask them, why don't you enjoy most? A lot of it's launching the rocket. It's a lot of seeing other people's work. But there's a large number of teams that will say, being exposed to the different cultures. I mean, we have teams, 66 teams from outside the United States that's participating. And they represent six continents worth of countries. So it's a good chance for people to experience other cultures in a very nice, safe environment. Where there's that common interest, like the fraternity in the very classical sense of that word. I'm sure for many it's their first time abroad. So it's just like that. That's it's, I just love these kinds of activities. And so the cup is coming up pretty soon. Tell me about what we're expecting for this year. I took a look at the roster of the many universities being represented. As you mentioned, amazing representation from around the world. But yeah, thoughts on what's happening this year. Well, it's June 17th to the 22nd. A lot of work happens beforehand, where we have a tremendous group of volunteers, over 200 actually, that will work with each one of these schools to make sure that they're doing, they're thinking about, their novel ideas are going to be safe. Because we're working with safety first with these teams. And we go through three progress reports where all their work is reviewed, just to describe the event itself on Monday, teams register, and we'll do another safety inspection on the rocket. On Tuesday, we have our poster sessions, where each team displays the rocket, talks about it to everybody that's walking around, judges are judging them at this time in the convention center. We have podium sessions where the teams that have exemplary work, we give them an opportunity to present their work in this event. And then after that's all over, starting Wednesday, we're launching rockets out at the spaceport. And we've got a really world-class facility in this purpose-built spaceport, where it's in the middle of New Mexico Desert. And it's just a wonderful place for launching rockets. And we have, this year, we started out with 157 teams, we're down to just about 135 teams because of different things. The teams will financially not be able to do it after they've been accepted, even though they've been working on their rocket. But international teams coming over, it's a lot of dollars. And then we have teams that blow the rocket up in a test flight, that won't have an opportunity to have it ready. And some of the best schools in the United States are in that category. It's not easy stuff. It truly is rocket science. It's true. Yeah. What else can you say that? Right? That's right. This truly is rocket science. Yeah. I've had the joy of speaking to many of the teams before they go and then after. And one of the things that has always been so striking to me is, how much they learn even before they get to the Cup. That process, even before they're there, especially for international teams, is trying to figure out how to get everything there. Of course, the engineering challenges, but also the fundraising challenges, it's such a great hands-on educational opportunity for them to start thinking about things that maybe they never would have. Maybe not strictly classically engineering, but the whole thing. And just what an incredible opportunity for them. I'm sort of in awe of it. I think that's where this whole multidisciplinary approach comes in. And it's a true sort of business world exercise, because you're worried about finance. You've got to worry about logistics. You've got to worry about managing the team from a production standpoint. So there's a lot of real-life lessons learned here. And again, I want to make sure that I compliment the volunteer staff, because we're an all-volunteer organization. And we put out a very complex event that takes a lot of volunteer time. In the hot desert in the summer, no less. A lot of us, we take vacation time to come do it. We're really dedicated to the mission of helping the young engineers mature themselves and become workforce-ready. Yeah. I feel like this is a great time for a call to action. If anyone else wants to get involved, how I imagine for this year, it's way too late, maybe for the future. Well, from a volunteer perspective, actually one of the most rewarding things now about volunteers is I have the students that participated in this event now coming back to the event as a volunteer. Oh, how nice. So last year, we had some delays in registration. So one of the graduating students said, "Hey, listen, let me take on registration. We're going to make that a better process this year." Even just the event logistics, it's between the Las Cruces Convention Center, then the vertical launch area, and then we're at the Pan Am Center for our award ceremony. So even the coordination of all that is, and then we have 34 sponsors that are part of this thing that contribute to this. So it's a very complex event. It's a great learning experience for the students. We wouldn't be here without all the volunteer support that I get as part of this. That's, it's truly amazing to see all the folks coming together to help make this event happen. And you asked if you wanted to participate. Yes, yeah. Our website is soundingrocket.org, and there's a link for becoming a volunteer. And we need volunteers to do registration, to just do data entry, to do, there are non-technical components that we need to staff as well. I know people flying in from all over. So that's, it's truly amazing to see. Volunteers from Japan, from New Zealand, from Australia, then again, we're part of the competition before who are just coming to volunteer at this event. So it's very rewarding, that respect. That speaks so much to how impactful an event this is, that people are coming back like that, and giving back after they've participated too. That's just, keep saying wonderful, but it really is. It's just so nice. Steve, is there anything else that you wanted to mention about Ezra or the Spaceport America Cup before we wrap up today? I would be remiss if I didn't give some kudos to the Spaceport America, because, you know, they're a world-class facility, and it's our partnership that makes this event happen. And other than that, it's one month away. It's exactly, I think, one month away. And so we're behind the scenes getting everything ready, and I can't wait to see everybody out there. We'll be right back. Welcome back. No, we are not done talking about the cup just yet, as N2K has an interest in this competition, don't we, Alice? Yes, we do. I've been involved with the Spaceport America Cup since 2018, and as I did in 2023, I'll be heading to present some of the live stream for launch days. So starting on the Wednesday, all the students head out to Spaceport America's vertical launch area, which is about an hour from Las Cruces, to set up their areas for preparation for launch, which starts that afternoon. And Ezra is live streaming the event on YouTube. So Alice, what is it like there in the vertical launch area? A little bit hot. It'll be over 100 degrees for most of the competition, and that area of southern New Mexico is about 4,000 feet above sea level. So they have to be conscious of their hydration levels. It's an intense time for the teams to make sure that their rocket is ready, get it inspected by the judges to ensure it's safe, and then drive out to the launch areas in times between different launches, and then they have to wait for their allotted time to press go. It's stressful, but so rewarding for all involved. I bet. So friends, if you're not already following us on LinkedIn, definitely go on over and hit that follow button on N2K T-minus. We will post links to the live stream coverage of the Spaceport America Cup, which is June 17th through 22nd. So you too can follow along, even if, like me, you're not in New Mexico in person, but maybe next year. We're going to bring you out here next year, so that live stream will start on the 19th, so you've got no excuses if you're in the U.S. and you've got Juneteenth after watchers. [Music] That's it for T-minus for May the 17th, 2024, brought to you by N2K Cyberwire. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. Your feedback ensures we deliver the insights that keep you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. If you like the show, please share a rating and review in your podcast app. Please also fill out the survey in the show notes or send us an email at twospace@n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K Cyberwire is part of the daily routine 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, N2K makes it easy for companies to optimize your biggest investment, your people. We make you smarter about your teams while making your teams smarter. Learn how at N2K.com. 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 Iben. Our executive editor is Brandon Karp. Simone Petrella is our president. Peter Kilpey is our publisher. And I'm your host, Maria Varmaus. Thanks for listening. Have a fantastic weekend. [Music] [Music]

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