UK’s Royal Navy tests a quantum navigation system. Northrop Grumman to launch Space Force's weather satellite. TROPICS coming for a storm near you....
The Quad flexes space.
The Quad gives space a shoutout. FCC approves Viasat-Inmarsat deal. Coverage from the GEOINT summit. Space Force goes meta. Spaceport Cornwall. And more!
Quad leaders summit gives space a shoutout. FCC approves a possible Viasat-Inmarsat deal. Special coverage from the GEOINT summit happening this week (and there’s already lots of it). Space Force goes meta. And Melissa Quinn gives us the insider perspective on Spaceport Cornwall and UK launch services.
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Our featured interview today is with Melissa Quinn, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, on what’s next for domestic launch services, providers, and users in the UK.
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>> Maria Varmazis: The Quad Leaders' Summit on description might sound like a superhero troop or the opening to a bad joke, but no, it's a serious group. Four world leaders from the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India go to a summit and talk about their pressing national priorities. So, what do they talk about? A free and open Indo-Pacific? Yes. The pressing concerns of climate change? Absolutely. Infrastructure and connectivity; the importance of cybersecurity? You betcha. And oh yes, of course, peaceful and safe sustainable use of outer space.
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>> Unidentified Person: T-minus 20 seconds.
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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is May 22, 2023. I am Maria Varmazis and this is "T-Minus."
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Quad Leaders' Summit gives space a shout out! The FCC approves a possible Viasat, Inmarsat deal. Special coverage from the GEOINT Summit happening this week. And our interview today is with Melissa Quinn, Head of Spaceport Cornwall on "What's next for the UK's Horizontal Spaceport." Stay with us.
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Now, let's dive in to the Intel Briefing for today. U.S. President Biden, Australian PM Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio, and Prime Minister Modi of India, met in Hiroshima for the fifth convening of the Quad Leaders' Summit. In an overview that outlined multiple national security and economic development initiatives, the Quad identified the space sector as a core to the Quad's strategic cooperation. The initiatives included information sharing on climate change and prioritizing space situational awareness and space traffic management. They also intend to use earth observation data and space-based tools to support emerging Indo-Pacific nations. Commercially, the Quad committed to grow their respective space sectors, enhancing the resilience of space supply chains and setting responsible standards. The Quad partners plan to host a commercial space business forum later this year. In a separate statement, U.S. President Biden and Australian Prime Minister Albanese announced in an agreement, subject of final domestic approval that allows for the transfer of sensitive U.S. launch tech and data to Australia. The intent is to create a new Australian-based ground station that will provide near continuous communication support to lunar missions for the Artemis Program. The FCC has approved Viasat's proposed acquisition of Inmarsat. The European Commission's Competition Review remains the key ongoing regulatory review and is expected to close later this month. The merger will create a significant use player in the field of global communications. Through the merger, Viasat anticipates increased operational efficiency, that is, decreased operating costs while maintaining service level performance and seeks to expand their services to Internet of things technologies around the world. And a very special hello to all our listeners tuning in from the GEOINT Symposium in St. Louis this week. We'll be bringing you the intel and insights from the symposium along with our friends over at Space News. You can check out their daily newsletter for the written stories. Now, here's your GEOINT coverage for today. A big day for satellite operator Umbra, along with data analytics from Ursa Space, the companies have announced a partnership to create advance uses for its synthetic aperture radar imagery. SAR satellites have the unique value proposition of being able to overcome imaging challenges such as darkness, clouds, foliage, and bad weather. The companies are looking into use cases like tracking oil production, maritime domain awareness, and flood analytics. Umbra also announced a 4.5 million dollar contract from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the one-year project called the Digital Radar Image Formation Technology Program, involves demonstrating imaging capabilities with at least two SAR satellites flown in formation for bistatic collection, for one radar transmits and receives signals while another only receives. This approach improves resolution by capturing images from different angles, crucial for military operations, and in conditions where electro-optical collection is unavailable. Planet Labs with analytics firms Royce Geo and Winward has demonstrated the use of commercial satellite imagery in uncovering illicit activities such as Russian oil trading and grain laundering. Planet Labs also released one of the largest training datasets from land monitoring machine learning applications. This dataset includes 500,000 observation locations over Europe, updated every five days for two years. This high-frequency time series data is essential for identifying changes over time such as crop patterns and urban development. The company is also working with Microsoft to develop a planet GPT, an AI driven tool aimed at making satellite data more accessible and searchable. Impact Observatory has launched an early access program for IO Monitor, a tool that combines AI with satellite imagery to classify and monitor land use. Available for a dollar per square kilometer, was the minimum order of five square kilometers and that's a five dollar minimum purchase for those of you doing the napkin math. Customers can access IO Monitor via an online store and soon through S3, Microsoft Azure, and AWS. And a quit plug for a friend of the show, Sita Sonty, Part 2 of her series on "Edge Computing in Space" is now live in via satellite. We've included a link in the selected reading section of our show notes for you and we published a "Deep Space" interview with Sita on May 13th. So, if you haven't listened yet, you should definitely check it out. Arriving on the heels of the FCC's favorable ruling for Starlink against Dish, AT&T has challenged a joint SpaceX T-Mobile proposal. SpaceX and T-Mobile intend to add direct cellular communications on up to 7500 Generation 2 Starlink satellites. Initial services would include text messaging followed by voice and Internet coverage. Now, AT&T claims that current FCC rules don't support this use of T-Mobile's terrestrial spectrum. The proposal has also faced objections from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The group claims that the plan would cause harmful interference in the National Radio Quiet Zone near Green Bank, West Virginia. On a side note, the NRQZ has a fascinating history, you can read about it in the book, "The Quiet Zone" by Stephen Kurczy. Our executive producer describes the book as "The epitome of eccentric. It answers the age old question, what happens if you stick hippies, paranoiacs, ecologists, Nazis, research astronomers, billionaires, and the NSA into a small town in Appalachia?" He gives it four out of 5 stars. The FCC's final decision on the SpaceX T-Mobile plan though is still pending. TechCrunch is reporting that Stoke Space, a launch vehicle startup founded by former Blue Origin engineers, has received funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm and strategic investor for the U.S. Defense and military community. This previously unpublicized relationship position stoke among a select group of launch companies backed by In-Q-Tel, including Rocket Lab and ABL Space Systems. Stoke's focus is on the developing a fully reusable launch vehicle capable of daily flights aligning with the U.S. Space Force's interest in rapid turnaround launch capabilities. Now, Stoke which raised 65 million dollars in a Series A round in 2021, is preparing for a "hopper" test flight of its reusable upper stage showing significant progress in its technology. Win hop guys. Speaking of U.S. Government investment in startups, Eric Lipton published an article in the New York Times over the weekend about how new space startups like Capella Space, Fortem Space, and HawkEye 360s have validated their tech during the war in Ukraine and despite success in real world environments, still face major challenges due to the Pentagon slow risk-averse procurement process. This is known as the "Valley of Death" by insiders. We've talked about a few times in some of our past interviews. Now, this article is a nice detailed overview of the defense tech and startup ecosystem, highly recommend you read it. We've added a link for you in your Show Notes. And hey, you've heard of this "metaverse thing, right? Odd place in the uncanny valley with creepy avatars doing their best lieutenant band Cosplay? Well, apparently the Space Force is dipping their toe in that water for some reason. The Space Force has replicated launch operations at Cape Canaveral, the busiest U.S. spaceport in a 3D metaverse, yes. The Space Force's Spaceport Integration Office has funded this demonstration simulating launches with real-world telemetry data and Maxar's high-resolution satellite imagery. The initiative illustrates how military operations can use metaverse tech for planning and training, particularly in the face of increasing launch rates and spaceport congestion. The simulation used CCM's visualization software, Unreal Engine computer graphics game engine and in videos on the verse collaboration platform. No response yet on why they didn't just download Kerbal Space Program, as far as we can tell the KSP game developers have been working on this whole metaverse spaceport idea for about a decade and pretty much have it unlocked. Don't reinvent the wheel, you know? And speaking of spaceports, out interview today is with Melissa Quinn, Head of Spaceport Cornwall. Now, Melissa just announced her departure from Spaceport Cornwall and no news yet on where she's heading next. She's been in the head roll since January 2021 and oversaw the critical milestone of the first ever UK launch this past January. We are excited to hear where she lands.
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And that's it for our Intel Briefing for today. And hey, T-Minus crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup and it's called "Signals in Space." Now, if you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal, no noise. You can signup for "Signals in Space" in our Show Notes or at space.n2k.com.
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As we mentioned a little earlier, today's chat is with outgoing head of Spaceport Cornwall, Melissa Quinn. A little podcast inside baseball here, we conducted this interview a little while ago, before Melissa's announced departure, so don't get confused by the present tenses used here. She'll be walking us through Spaceport Cornwall's history and its future in the context of global Spaceport capacity. And we will touch briefly on Virgin Orbit's bankruptcy and how it is and isn't affecting the UK's only horizontal space launch site. Here is our chat.
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>> Melissa Quinn: Hi everyone. My name is Melissa Quinn and I am the Head of Spaceport Cornwall over here in Cornwall, UK.
>> Maria Varmazis: I would love to know about Spaceport Cornwall's sort of long-term plans especially in the context of the news from Virgin Orbit. So, I guess maybe we should start with how does that news affect Spaceport Cornwall?
>> Melissa Quinn: Yeah, I mean of course it's been really difficult for us over here in the UK to see everything unfold over in the U.S. with our friends at Virgin Orbit. We've been working with them for a very longtime now, towards that first launch that we had in January. So, it's been difficult not just from a work perspective, but also personally, you know, these people are really good people, talented, and kind individuals and we obviously wish them all the best and we will wait to see what comes out of the Chapter 11 process which will be kind of concluding over the next couple of weeks, and we do hope that, you know, we see another iteration of it in the future. We've always been very open about the fact that we are a [inaudible] or sites and that we were using launch as a catalyst to attract other companies and investment to the spaceports and that's exactly what we're doing. We took what we learned from the first launch and we're making some tweaks to our launch side of the activities and working with other operators, you know, none of which are as ready as Virgin is to launch or was to launch, but companies like CR Space as a landing site in the future. We have a Canadian company called Space Engine Systems that's just starting with the kind of engine and rock testing phase. And we hope to announce a couple of other really exciting kind of more future-focused projects. But in the meantime, we're busy with growing the cluster, so you know, using all of that interest that we've had over the launch, over the last, you know, nine years to get other space businesses on site and we've just actually opened a brand new building last Thursday which we have ten companies moving into over the coming weeks who are all different kinds of space companies and that's what this is always been about is kind of a diverse range or "ecosystem" I know is the kind of trendy word for it at the minute, of space companies to collocate alongside our launch.
>> Maria Varmazis: Well, excellent. Thank you for that update. And yeah, I mean Spaceport Cornwall is such an interesting spaceport given the horizontal launch infrastructure. As you look ahead and what's next, are there--it sounds like you're building new partnerships, any other interesting plans that are in the works perhaps for Spaceport Cornwall?
>> Melissa Quinn: Yeah. For us it's always been the beauty of our site is where an active civilian airport as well, and so for us the key piece is that full integration of air and spaceport and that integration piece is something that we are working on, so how we become almost one big team and that there's so many opportunities in that from an air traffic perspective and air space usage to cargo, logistics handling, you know, how--what does it look like if we become a hub for any incoming payloads into the UK for space activity? So, that's one project. We're looking at, obviously I mentioned, developing a kind of wider space cluster. We're really looking at that around our purpose of space for good, so environmental intelligence. How do we really start to nail down what the impact of space is here back on earth so that we can go out and use space to benefit earth, but at the same time do it in a way that's maybe a bit more responsible. So, we're looking at some projects with the University of Exeter over here on how we--how we engage on a whole lifecycle of satellites, builds, and launch, and tracking, and debris to really kind of take it a bit of a lead on that--in that entire picture of space sustainability. So, that's the really one and then the reason that myself and my team get up every single day is that the outreach engagement and steam, inspiration piece that we do and we've since launched in January we've everyday had about two or three schools up on site doing tours, listening to space professionals. We're quite a rural area in the UK, there's quite high levels of depravation here. And for us it's really important that we are taking the local school children and showing them, you know, what's on their doorstep, but also that the pathways into careers in the space industry. So, that's probably been the most exciting thing that we've been up to and something that we're just growing every single month really on or kind of reach within our reach.
>> Maria Varmazis: Spaceport Cornwall is also a historical site in a way right? If I remember correctly, there's some of the, I may be misremembering this, you obviously would know better than I would [brief laughter], but there are some really interesting in terms of space history, some very fascinating components at Spaceport Cornwall, right?
>> Melissa Quinn: Yeah. We've--there's a few rumors out there of being like a backup landing site for the Shuttle program. There is, yeah, Cornwall's got--has a unique history across the board. It's where the steam engine was developed and really the start of the Industrial Revolution. It's known for its mining heritage. But there is John Couch Adams was a Cornishman who discovered Neptune, mathematician. We have RAF St. Mawgan where RAF base that's our next door neighbor and they lots of interesting history there, lots of American space there on and off throughout history really. So, lots of underground bunkers and it was kind of "Stranger Things" esc sometimes up there. And we also have Goonhilly down the road who is our partner, Goonhilly Earth Station who are just amazing and [inaudible] ground station, deep space comms and working with the, you know, Mars Rover and doing lunar missions and things like that. So, you know, that just down the road and they have a crazy history. Another kind of "Stranger Things" set down there. It's, yeah, it's kind of all here. We had a great foundation to build the Spaceport from definitely.
>> Maria Varmazis: When you think of Spaceport Cornwall in the context of how busy spaceports have become, what do you envision in the long-term?
>> Melissa Quinn: I think for spaceports it's an interesting time, because for a very longtime we were told, you know, there this huge demand, there's all these satellites that need to go up, there's a launch bottleneck we need to get more of them up there. We need to do it now. And suddenly saw, you know, huge amount of spaceports popping up all over the place and some of them have been successful and some of them are still on that journey, and some of them have failed. And I think for us, our whole strategy has been around that diversification piece, not putting all eggs in that launch basket and really just sustainably developing it as we go making sure that we're looking at the future and not pretending that we're going to be anything we're not. We're not here to have like a cadence of thirteen launches from the first year. You know, one, two over the next few years is going to be what--where we're at. So, it's kind of focused us on the wider activity and that's where a lot of the values can come, the jobs, the inspiration, as well as the economic growth for this area, the spinouts from it. So, we've kind of taken a slightly different approach than some of the other spaceports, but for us it's all been about the community. I think there's a, and I say this quite often, is there's a disconnect between space and earth, in that, the space industry aren't great at communicating why space is so important and you see it played out in the media a lot, like why are we're going to space when we have enough problems on earth? And.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yep.
>> Melissa Quinn: And for me, it's been communicating, you know, to the average person why space is important and why accessing space is important, and I think again other spaceports may be haven't done a good enough job of really engaging with the community, not just a sales pitch, not just you know blanket statements, but actually listening to what they say, have challenging conversations, bring them on the journey, and we've thought through--a really--one project we have worked on is called Kernow Sat. It's our community satellite and it's just exactly that. It's to build a satellite in Cornwall launching from Cornwall, track it from Cornwall, and the use of that satellite is for our local problem, and that's all been about you know connecting space to a local community and showing that spaceports can be a benefit as long as you're being open and transparent about things like your carbon impact and how you're going to mitigate offset or even bring it down altogether. So, we've learned a lot. It's been--it's not easy. It's a long-term game and, you know, you have to be in it for the long haul and you have to setup a kind of a more diverse kind of portfolio of activity on the site.
>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. Well, thank you Melissa for walking me through it and also how Spaceport Cornwall is such a wonderful ambassador for the benefits of space especially to the local community. This is fascinating. So, thank you so much for explaining everything to me. I appreciate it.
>> Melissa Quinn: Thank you. Thanks for your time.
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>> Maria Varmazis: And we'll be right back.
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And welcome back. You know, a dog and a sheep have had their days as zero G indicators. So, why not a bear next? Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep certainly aren't the only stuffies how have been to space. Lots of toys and plushies may their way up there actually. Like Yoda, dinosaurs, Smokey the Bear, Buzz Lightyear, Olaf from "Frozen," Rilakkuma, even a plushy of earth. Now, this tradition started with the very first human space flight, Yuri Gagarin brought a doll with him on the Vostok 1 as a zero gravity indicator and that tradition has stuck around. The teddy bear flying aboard the Axiom 2 is from Build a Bear and she's even wearing its own version of the Axiom extravehicular Mobility Unit or AxEMU spacesuit, you know, the predominantly black and orange one that was unveiled a few weeks ago and with a white version being with the Artemis Lunar crew will wear. I mean it will be human sized of course. Now, Axiom 2's mascot name is "GiGi" and she's a wee thing at 17 centimeters tall. We have to be mindful of adding weight to the mission after all. Now, if you want, you can get your own version of this bear for 42 dollars if you are so inclined and the terrestrial version is a far more huggably sized 40 centimeters tall. Might be something fun for the space loving kids in your life or kids at heart or you, I won't judge.
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And that's it for T-Minus for May 22, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, checkout our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit the survey in your show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine of 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. 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. Learn more at n2k.com. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman, and Tré Hester with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmarzis. See you tomorrow.
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>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus.
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