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Australia’s budget sends space down under.

Budget cuts hit Australia’s space sector. Debt ceiling talks put the freeze on the NDAA. Space Force wants industry feedback on guardian training. And more





Budget cuts shake up Australia’s space ambitions. Debt ceiling talks put the freeze on the National Defense Authorization Act. Space Force wants industry feedback on training. NASA’s seeking proposals for saving the Hubble Telescope, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s episode is Steve Noel, VP for Satcom Solutions at Thales Defense & Security. 

You can follow Steve on LinkedIn and learn more about Thales SATCOM solutions at their website.

Selected Reading

Plan for Australian spaceports axed as federal budget cuts run deep- Sydney Morning Herald

Australia’s first national space mission up in the air after federal budget cuts- Australian budget 2023- The Guardian 

Debt ceiling brawl jams up the Pentagon’s mega policy bill- POLITICO 

On National Security | The space surveillance arms race is in full swing- SpaceNews 

Space Force to seek industry help to test tech, train guardians- C4ISRNET

Astroscale and Momentus Team to Offer NASA a Commercial Solution to Reboost Hubble and Deliver Additional In-Space Servicing- SpaceRef


Sidus Space Expands Global Ground Site Network With New ATLAS Space Operations Contract- Business Wire 

Hughes Broadband Subscribers Continue to Decline Ahead of Jupiter 3 Launch- Via Satellite

EnduroSat raises $10 million - SpaceNews 

SOF Week 2023: How Collaborative Autonomy can revolutionise multi-domain missions- Shephard Media


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>> Maria Varmazis: Last year, Australia announced the NSMEO (or National Space Mission for Earth Observation), a $1.2 billion enterprise to build four new Earth observation satellites to help the country better monitor its maritimes and to detect bushfires and floods. But national budget woes have thrown some cold water on Australia's space plans, unfortunately. And right now, NSMEO's fate is up in the air.

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Today is May 11, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Budget cuts shake up Australia's space ambitions. Debt ceiling talks put the freeze on the NDAA. Space Force wants industry feedback on training. And a lifeline for Hubble? And a conversation with Steve Noel, vice president for Satcom Solutions at Thales Defense and Security, about a product design story with a raspberry in it. Yep. More after this.

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And now onto our intel briefing for today. Budget woes know no borders. And, unfortunately, like many countries around the world right now, Australia finds itself needing to tighten its budgetary belt. And this has meant significant cuts to Australia's space ambitions, with the Department of Industry, Science, and Resources cutting $77 million from three programs to be precise. The three programs terminated were the Australian spaceport's program, the Australian technology into orbit program, and a component of the Moon to Mars program to better integrate Australian supply chains with NASA's plans. James Brown, CEO of the Space Industry Association of Australia, said in an interview with the Guardian that this supply chain program was the only program specifically designed to help Australian space small-to-medium enterprises get into global supply chains. With all that said, it's still unknown if these budget cuts will also somehow impact the $1.2 billion National Space Mission for Earth Observation (or NSMEO) that we mentioned at the top of the show. Brown says that NSMEO represents the most strategic and significant space public policy in 40 years. For its part, the Australian federal government has only publicly said that, "The next steps for the NSMEO will be outlined in due course." And it's certainly not all budgetary roses over here in the United States right now either. As you might've heard, there's a bit of a debate going on about how to deal with the United States hitting the debt ceiling. And this, putting this politely, disagreement over how to handle it is causing just about everything, including legislation, to be put on hold. This includes the National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA), which is essentially how US national security programs relating to personnel, weapon systems, research and development, all of that, get funded. Congress has to pass it every year. And right now with the debt ceiling debate, everything, including potentially making changes to the NDAA via the House Armed Services Committee, is on hold. I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when the talks would start up again. But all we know is that this hold is indefinite until the debt ceiling is dealt with. Space Force is seeking industry input for future Guardian training and testing capabilities. Space Training and Readiness Command, known as STAR Com, has identified gaps in its current capabilities that it hopes commercial companies will be able to cover. STAR Com plans to meet industry representatives next month to discuss these capability gaps and update companies on plans for a National Space Test and Training Complex, known as NSTTC, which was announced in 2022. Space Force requested $340 million for fiscal year 2024 for operational test and training infrastructure, which includes funding to develop the NSTTC and for other equipment. Astroscale and Momentus have partnered to respond to NASA's call for a solution to reboost the Hubble Telescope. NASA released an RFI for the safe relocation of Hubble and removal of nearby debris from the telescope's new orbit. The partnership is proposing use of Momentus's Vigoride Orbital Service Vehicle, known as the OSV, with Astroscale's RPOD technology on board -- which stands for Rendezvous Proximity Operations and Docking. All of that to be used to capture the telescope. Once mated, the OSV would aim to raise the Hubble by about 50 kilometers. It's not known what other companies, if any, also responded to NASA's RFI. Last year, NASA agreed to review the technical feasibility of boosting Hubble, but the RFI does not guarantee that it will carry out a Hubble servicing mission. Sadly, the agency may well decide that, with newer technology in place and future exploration planned, that Hubble's days days might be coming to an end. In-space servicing company Impulse has reached a critical milestone ahead of its LEO Express-1 mission, expected in late 2023. Impulse says its Saiph thruster is now space qualified and is ready for its first orbital mission launching on SpaceX's Falcon 9. Impulse plans to use its Mira orbital service vehicle to perform in-space services, including orbital payload delivery, payload hosting, very low altitude maneuvers, and controlled atmospheric re-entry. If successful, Impulse will be among the first companies to demonstrate rapid in-space transportation services through high thrust chemical propulsion. Satellite manufacturing company Sidus Space has contracted with ATLAS Space Operations to expand ground station services for its upcoming LizzieSat constellation. Sidus Space is developing the LizzieSat constellation to support custom payloads and missions and has deals with companies such as DOM Aerospace, and others. The partnership with ATLAS give Sidus access to the larger network of global ground sites, with an aim to reduce time between data collection and downlink. Hughes Network Systems has announced a drop in subscriptions and revenues ahead of the launch of the company's next satellite expected in June. Hughes Net parent company EchoStar says the launch of the Jupiter 3 satellite will now allow the service provider to support a global 5G network in the S band. Hughes Net is currently only able to provide network coverage over North America until the new satellite is deployed. SpaceNews is reporting that European satellite startup EnduroSat has raised $10 million in a Series A investment round. The Bulgarian company is headquartered in Sofia, with further business operations across Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, and France. EnduroSat most recently partnered with the Kenyan space agency to manufacture a satellite to monitor agriculture in the African country. That satellite was launched on Space X's Falcon 9 last month. EnduroSat's CEO told SpaceNews that they plan to use the funding to improve its satellite technology and expand its constellation-as-a-service product line. US Special Operations Command is hosting Special Operations Forces Week with the Global Special Operation Forces Foundation in Tampa, Florida. You can read about some of the headlines coming out of the conference in our "selected reading" section on our website at space.n2k.com. And that concludes our intel roundup for today. And, hey, T-Minus crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, T-Minus can help. We'd like to hear from you. So send us an email at space@n2k.com, or send us a note through our website so we can connect about building a program to help you meet your goals. And coming up next, stay with us for my chat with Steve Noel, vice president for Satcom Solutions at Thales Defense and Security.

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Today's guest interview is all about when the rubber meets the road when it comes to satellite communications product design. So when designing a product, there's the idea of how it will be used based on research, discussed in conference rooms and over emails, and then there's the reality -- talking to customers about their lives, meeting them where they are, and finding out how they're really using the things you make. And things get really interesting when those two data sets end up being a bit more different than you'd expect. Here's more on that.

>> Steve Noel: Iridium was putting up some new satellite spec in 2018. Brand-new, high broadband kind of satellites. And they were looking for people to build equipment for it. So we have a company down in Florida that used to do Iridium services anyway. So they called us up and said, hey, you know, we're going to do this airtime, build this air product for Iridium. Do you want to do the land one? And we're like, sure. So we started looking into it, proposed with Iridium, and thought, you know, this really fits good into our communication products that we do at Thales. So we reached out there, we did the proposal, and Iridium selected us to do it. So from there it turned into quite a journey. Because we had not built any satellite equipment before. This was all kind of new to us. We're very good at radios. We're very good at communication devices. But when it came to doing satellite, it was a whole new market for us.

>> Maria Varmazis: So once you're at that stage and, you know, you've got this incredible challenge ahead of you -- this new challenge -- how did you go through sort of the development process from that point?

>> Steve Noel: Yeah, so the first thing was, since it was a brand-new market, we had to see what the market was about. So we went around and we tried to look for, you know, what does everybody really want? What's the things that overlap? So we go to one place. And I guess the one thing we did find was that it's a network device. And people really wanted something more that was just more than a connection to the Internet. They wanted to be able to fit this into their equipment. So vessel goes on ships, big vessel containers, container ships, and it's a very critical communication tool. So when the storms come up and are really bad, the L-band -- which the vessel link does -- the L-band communication works through the storms. So it's pretty critical to have on there, right? Because you hit a storm, you want to say, you know, help, or, you know, figure out where the storm is. So you need that data connectivity. So, you know, we'd talk to them and they would say, you know, we want to be able to fit it into our network. Because they have these huge networks on these boats. So we're like, okay, it's got to be a network device. And then we go and talk to, you know, somebody in land and they would say, well, you know, it's just going to sit alone inside of a vehicle. We want something you put in the trunk and, you know, we can just talk to people. And we'd also like to have a Wi-Fi so we can, you know, get far away. So, you know, we took all of these ideas and kind of put them together. One of the funny things is when we put it all together, we went to visit a customer out -- a potential customer -- out in Europe. And we said, okay, we want to do Wi-Fi. And this guy was kind of funny. He was like [makes sound] on Wi-Fi. We don't need Wi-Fi on a ship.

[ Laughter ]

>> Maria Varmazis: All right, so the exact opposite of what you'd been told.

>> Steve Noel: The exact opposite, yes. With sound effects, literally sound effects, yes. And it was funny. There was about five of us in the room and we're all kind of looking at each other like, did he really do that, you know?

>> Maria Varmazis: Did he just give you a raspberry?

>> Steve Noel: That's right.

[ Laughter ]

And we're like, is this really the right feature for us, you know? We just got the raspberry from, you know, a potential good customer.

>> Maria Varmazis: A raspberry for Wi-Fi, yeah.

>> Steve Noel: Raspberry for Wi-Fi. Needless to say, maybe or maybe not, we did go with the Wi-Fi. So we do have Wi-Fi on our boats.

>> Maria Varmazis: I was going to say, trying to sort of square two very opposing fields of feedback from potential customers is quite a challenge. I mean, gosh, that's both a sort of product design challenge and an engineering challenge. Like how do you optimize a product that works for those opposing viewpoints? How did you arrive at that point to figure what you were actually going to move forward with?

>> Steve Noel: Well, we went through -- and some of it was just costs. You know, if something cost too much to put in there, we wouldn't put it in there. But, you know, if we thought a market really needed it, we'd go ahead and put it in anyway. Because we wanted to -- we build high-quality products. And we wanted to be out there and say, you know, we're not just a "me too" product. There's a lot of L-band products out there. They all kind of do the same thing, right? So you go with the cheapest one, right, the cheapest one that's going to hit your market. And we build high-quality products and, you know, we're known for that. We do a lot of military stuff, Thales as a whole, you know, it's a big, multinational company. And we do a lot of really good stuff, right, from satellites to submarines and everything in between. So we wanted, when you picked up our device and you saw our device, we wanted a high-quality device that was functional. We didn't want a "me too" product. We wanted something that when somebody picked it up, they go, okay, Thales quality I know I can put in this network. I can do much more with it than other guys because these are Thales, right? These guys know what they're doing.

>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. You must've learned a lot through this process. I'm sure this wasn't your first rodeo, so to speak. But this being sort of a new product entry, what did you take away from that?

>> Steve Noel: Yeah, there's a lot of things you learn along the way. There's one thing I learned being the first time -- I'm more of a software guy. So this is the first kind of commercial hardware device that I built. And one of the things you never really think about is just the way the box looks, right? So, you know, you can make something that looks kind of plain, right, something that's kind of just a box. But we wanted something that was recognizable to us. So, you know, we went out to a design firm and we said, you know, here's the kind of device we're going to build and we want it to look, you know, really cool. What can you do? So they gave us like this catalog of five different devices or five different drawings that we could potentially build a box to look like. So, you know, we all got together that's building this box. And we're looking at all these. And we're like, this is it, this is the perfect design. We know this is it. And we go, and let's look and maybe this one might be okay too. So, you know, we picked the one we all loved and then we're like, this one is okay. So we went again to another customer, kind of seeing -- potential customer, kind of seeing what it would look like or what they think of this design. We said, this is what it'll look like, and we put up the first one. And he goes, oh. And we said, or it'll look like this. And he goes, oh, I like that second one. So we all walked out of there saying, we're going to build the second one instead of the one that we all loved, right? We just pivoted right there on the spot. But there's also a lot of things, especially with a satellite communications, right -- because we build the ground device, but somebody else has the satellites. And they have to manage the software on it. They have to make sure, you know, you don't blow up their satellite if we did something, you know. They're worried about that. They're worried about, you know, are we going to do something that brings down their communications, you know, powers or antenna, that sort of thing. So, you know, we go in there saying, we've built something really great. And then they go, sure you did, but here are all of the steps you have to do before we even let you, you know, see where one of our satellites are. And that was quite an experience. So we do a lot of RF stuff, like I was saying, a lot of radios. And we went and repurposed a lot of our labs so that we can do the best testing that we can before we could actually hit the radio satellites. And that's quite a bit of a learning experience. I learned a lot about RF, a lot about satellite communications and how they worked, and it was quite fun. We also learned a lot about markets, right? Like I said, it was brand-new for us, going into commercial. We've actually done quite well, because we do have the good functionality; we do have the high quality. And part of our design was we looked at a simple design. I consider myself a simple guy. So anytime that we build a new feature, if I can't understand it, I send it back to engineering. I'm like, nope, if I can't do it, right, it's too difficult. So everything's simple. Everything is lightweight. It's easy to install. And that's what we went for. It was difficult. We had to make some design decisions to do that, but I think we did make the right decisions in the long run.

>> Maria Varmazis: I mean, it's always a balance with these things, right? And getting that good customer data and balancing it with the needs of, in this case, the satellites that the product's going to be talking to. That sounds like a really fun but difficult challenge. Anything you wanted to add about sort of the process of going through and designing and making this product? Anything that maybe we didn't touch on that you wanted to mention?

>> Steve Noel: Well, it was actually quite fun building it. It was quite fun getting to know our customers. Some of the use cases that were on are quite interesting and quite fun. For instance, you know, we're on a balloon, which I never thought we would be on a balloon. Who wants to do a high-altitude balloon with a satellite system? You never really think of that, but how do they communicate, right? It's just a perfect application for it. Yeah, a lot of these use cases are really fun. We're on racing boats. And we perform well in all of these situations. So when it comes to critical communications -- which is something when we started, I didn't really think about it. But using L-band like we are, you know, we're a really, really good fit for the critical communications, right, the public safety people and militaries and, like I said before, vessels that need that critical communication. And it's been fun and it actually feels good to build something that could potentially save lives. And, you know, there are stories of how people have relied on our equipment and have saved, you know, at least one life that I can think of now. So it's kind of a great adventure to know that, you know, I'm building a commercial product, but still, you know, I'm building something that's useful to many people around the world.

>> Maria Varmazis: And that's a great feeling. And not everybody can get to say that they are doing something that impactful. So that's wonderful, Steve. Thank you so much for walking me through this process of how you went through this fascinating process. I think people are going to learn a lot from this. And I'm sure many people will also relate having been on the design side. So thank you, Steve, so much. I really appreciate it.

>> Steve Noel: You're welcome. Thank you, Maria. It's good speaking with you.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And thanks again to Steve for joining us. We'll be right back. Welcome back. Now, if you or your friends are at all involved in the astro scientific community, then you might know some folks were either really happy or really sad yesterday. Yesterday, the Space Telescope Science Institute announced the winning proposals for James Webb Space Telescope Cycle 2. 1,601 proposals were submitted in January from 52 countries, all in the hopes that they could get just a wee bit of Webb's time and then maybe have it point at a specific target and collect data for their research. But there's only so much time in a year, so of all of those proposals, only 249 were accepted. It's a tough competition, to be sure. You can dig into all the accepted proposals on STScI's website. And I know it's gimmicky, but I do really appreciate clever proposal names. So I'm going to just read a few of my favorites: ultracool white dwarfs, cool or not so cool; shaken and stirred, shocks and turbulence in the Stephan's Quintet wore molecular filament; revealing our past faux PAS, unveiling the hidden drivers of interstellar medium conditions at cosmic noon -- with PAS being polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon -- and then the mirror survey for XO planets orbiting white dwarfs. And the acronym for that one is MEOW. Clever titles aside, a sincere congratulations to everyone who had their proposals accepted. May it all yield useful data.

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And that's it for T-Minus for May 11, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine for many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector. From the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester, with original and music design by Elliott Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. See you tomorrow.

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