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A saturation of satellite successes.

Astranis successfully hits another key milestone. Satellite Vu announces a Series A2 round. News from GEOINT symposium. NASA SBIR announcement. And more.





Astranis announces that their Arcturus satellite has not only successfully settled into its spot in geostationary orbit over Alaska, it's also completed an end-to-end payload test, with the satellite connecting to a ground station in Utah and user terminals in Alaska. Satellite Vu reports a Series A2 investment of $15.8m. Northrop Grumman announces a Preliminary Design Review for the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command’s Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar program. A round up of other news from GEOINT 2023, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s episode is Marie Planchard from Dassault Systèmes who is the lead for 3D Experience Works Engagement on supporting student competitions such as the Spaceport America Cup.

You can follow Marie on LinkedIn and learn more about Dassault Systèmes on their website.

Selected Reading

Debut Astranis satellite beams first signals to Alaska- Space News 

Breaking barriers in climate action: Satellite Vu raises further £12.7m ($15.8m), bringing investment total to £30.5m ($37.9m)- Satellite Vu

Missile-warning satellite passes preliminary design review- Space News 

NGA emphasizing space GEOINT mission, developing lunar model for operators: Director- Breaking Defense

NRO seeking new electro-optical imagery from private sector- Breaking Defense

DARPA Awards 4 Contracts for SAR Collection and Processing Under the Drift Program- Via Satellite

Japan to expand use of space for defense, vow to protect satellites- Kyodo News

Moon crash site found! NASA orbiter spots grave of private Japanese lander (photos)- Space.com

Space Robotics Startup GITAI Raises US$30 Million in Funding- GITAI

Details On Mysterious Object That Followed China’s Spaceplane Revealed In Recent Space Threat Assessment- The Debrief

NASA Funds Small Business to Advance Tech for Space, Earth- NASA

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>> Maria Varmazis: Not every satellite manufacturer can say they got this kind of debut, but Astranis has had a heck of a start on orbit. Not only did they get to ride to geo on an expendable Falcon Heavy, a stretch limo to space if there ever was one, they are now reporting a successful payload test too. Not bad you all, not bad at all.

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Today is May 24th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus.

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Astranis has successfully hits another key milestone. Satellite Vu announces a series A2 round. More from the GEOINT Symposium this week, Japan to expand their use of space for defensive purposes. And NASA selections for its server program. And my interview with Marie Planchard from Dassault Systemes on 3D SolidWorks and supporting student competitions like the Spaceport America Cup. Stay with us.

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Now let's take a look at our intel briefing for today. Another successful step for San Francisco-based Astranis, the company announced today that they're Arcturus satellite has not only successfully settled into its spot in geostationary orbit over Alaska, it's also completed an end-to-end payload test with the satellite connecting to a ground station in Utah and user terminals in Alaska, with internet speeds hitting around nine gigabits per second. You might remember that Arcturus launched last month on a Falcon Heavy as one of the secondary payloads on that massive ViaSat-3 to GEO mission.

Arcturus still needs a few more checks before it's fully operational as a broadband internet satellite, and that's expected by around mid-June. In an interview for Space News, Astranis CEO John Gedmark says the company has plans for nine satellites in all, with five already booked with customer orders, and he expects to generate more than a billion dollars in revenue over the course of the eight or so years lifetime of these satellites.

British climate tech company Satellite Vu has announced a series A2 investment of $15.8 million, bringing their total investment to $37.9 million dollars in venture capital funding. The Earth observation company plans to use the new funding for its thermal imaging satellite constellation. Satellite Vu's first satellite launch is planned on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare flight next month.

And it's the final day of the GEOINT Symposium and we have a roundup of some of the news stories that have come out of the conference. First up, Northrup Grumman has announced a preliminary design review for the US Space Force Space Systems Command's next-generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar Program. The aerospace and defense company is due to begin production of the early warning missile system in 2024. Northrup Grumman is supplying its Eagle-3 spacecraft and communications payloads for the next-gen OPIR polar satellites, and is also working with Ball Aerospace to develop an infrared payload.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, has a new mission statement, "Know the world. Show the way from seabed to space." And the Director says it was designed to emphasize the agency's role in space. Speaking at GEOINT, Vice-Admiral Frank Whitworth says the NGA's new mission statement incorporates their expanding responsibilities, and the agency is focused on distinguishing friendly from unfriendly behavior in space. NGA discussed the mission statement with the National Reconnaissance Office (or NRO), US Space Command, and the Space Force ahead of the new version released to ensure that the messaging was consistent amongst the space-focused agencies.

And speaking of the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO, the agency has released a request for proposals for remote sensing via electro-optical cameras. The agency's head of commercial operations told a GEOINT audience that the NRO is looking to see where the commercial industry is pushing them in an effort to keep up to date with emerging technology. The NRO is already working with commercial imagery companies, including Maxar Technologies, Planet, and BlackSky to a total sum of $4 billion, and also announced at GEOINT the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (also known as DARPA) has awarded contracts to Umbra, Terran Orbital's PredaSAR unit, Northrop Grumman, and Jacobs, under the Distributed Radar Image Formation Technology program, known as DRIFT.

The contracts are aimed at demonstrating novel collection techniques using Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites, which are known as SAR. DARPA created the DRIFT program to take advantage of developments in SAR satellites that have been driven by commercial companies.

And from GEOINT, hopping across the globe to Asia now, and Kyodo News is reporting that Japan plans to expand their use of outer space for its defense, and is focusing on the safety of intelligence-gathering satellites. The report states that Japan is making this move as it's concerned that China and Russia are increasingly using space for military purposes. Kyodo News says that its source has seen a draft of a document on Japan's space security that says the country plans to team up with the United States. The document, which is said to be the first of its kind, will reportedly be finalized this summer and will detail measures covering the next decade.

And speaking of Japan, images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to show the final landing spot, hard landing spot, of the Hakuto-R lunar lander that failed in its touchdown attempt last month, unfortunately. The private Japanese mission also carried a small rover for the UAE and lost communications in its final approach to the lunar surface. The ispace team behind the lander later confirmed that the vehicle indeed did not soft-land as planned.

Aspirations for new commercial space missions do remain strong in Japan with Tokyo-based robotic startup Gitai announcing a new funding round for the development of in-space capabilities. Gitai says its Series B extension round of funding totals approximately $30 million and will be used to accelerate and expand their business in the United States, and enhance their lunar robotic rover and lunar inchworm-type robotic arm. The company says it's focused on reducing labor costs for Moon and Mars missions, and building infrastructure such as solar panels, communication antennas, fuel generators and habitation modules.

Staying in Asia, and a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Aerospace Security Project has been released assessing the threat of the latest orbital space plane test by China. The experimental Chinese space plane reportedly released an object while in orbit during its recent mission. The report states that there are no indications that a space plane capability would act as a counterspace weapon, though it does note that its ability to release unknown objects into orbit could progress to a co-orbital anti-satellite capability.

And finally, NASA has selected 112 proposals from 92 small businesses across 28 US states to receive phase-two funding as part of the SBIR (or Small Business Innovation Research) program. The program has awarded approximately $98 million to these businesses in this funding round, and we at T-Minus Space are very glad to have helped spread the word about this opportunity, and we look forward to working with NASA again soon. You can read more about NASA selections and all the other stories we have covered today in our show notes at space.n2k.com.

And that is our intel briefing for today. Stay with me now for my chat with Marie Planchard from Dassault Systemes on their 3D SolidWorks application and supporting student competitions such as the Spaceport America Cup. And hey, T-Minus crew, if you find this podcast useful, please do us a favor and share a five-star rating and a short review on your favorite podcast app. It'll help other space professionals just like you find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you. We really do appreciate it.

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The Spaceport America Cup is great learning and great fun, young students from around the world, rocketeering in the desert and watching their dreams soar. It's deeply inspiring, honestly. And the many sponsors working with the students feel the same, which is why they provide hands-on support for these students with a lot of the professional tools like SolidWorks, which they'll undoubtedly use once they're graduates. I spoke with Marie Planchard from Dassault Systemes about their support for Spaceport America, and as is often the case, the motivation here is both business and a little personal too.

>> Marie Planchard: We love to sponsor student teams, and we do it at a high school level, the collegiate level. Spaceport America is pretty amazing because it has undergraduate, master's students, and PhD students all competing. So we really like this competition and we provide our SolidWorks software, which allows them to design their rocket or components of their rocket. And new this year, we are also applying to Teams, our 3D experience platform technology, and this allows them to store data on the cloud, and to use some of our more advanced simulation tools that are under the brand of SIMULIA, which makes a product with a big solver called Abaqus, and that's really used in industry quite a bit.

>> Maria Varmazis: So yeah, these students are getting hands-on experience, not just with the rockets, which of course is great, but also the things that help them build the rockets, and that's real-world job experience in a way, because they might be using these tools when they go, yeah.

>> Marie Planchard: Exactly. You go to LinkedIn or any other job site and you search for SolidWorks or you search for Abaqus, you know, you're going to find companies that want these skills, right? And that is really important to us is we look to build these jobs skills. We have hundreds of thousands of customers, you know, from Boeing and NASA, all the way down to the startups in the space technology industries.

>> Maria Varmazis: SolidWorks has been a part of this cup for a little while. What does the cup mean to SolidWorks?

>> Marie Planchard: Well, we have been involved with Spaceport America for five years, so we're drawn to it year over year. I think one of the big things is as an international company, we're drawn to this competition because it is world-class, right? It is in the middle of New Mexico, but it represents the world. 150 institutions travel to be able to show what they have done in aerospace engineering, and that to us is so important. We're not just looking at a competition down the street, but really looking at educational institutions in a global economy.

>> Maria Varmazis: Many, many companies who are present at the cup use this as a recruitment opportunity for themselves. Is that something that you also do?

>> Marie Planchard: What we like to do is we walk from tent to tent, and we talk to the teams. We do talk about our 3DS careers site, but for us at that time, it's all about the rocket. They've spent a whole year thinking about launching this rocket, and we go and we wait till they're not presenting with the judges, where they're not using that last emergency piece of duct tape or something like that, you know? They're feeling a little calm, and we just asked them, "Hey, you know, we're from SolidWorks. We're so excited you're here."

And for us, it's the response from these teams that say so emotionally, "Oh, my gosh! We love SolidWorks," or "I got a job. You know, when I graduate, I'm going to be using SolidWorks, and thank you so much for giving our whole team SolidWorks," because we give it to the whole team. And we take that approach for our connection with students, and it does pay off. Then a student will come back and say, "Hey, I saw you at Spaceport America, and there's this job posting on your site. Do you know anything about it?" And we've already made that connection.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's wonderful. And I would imagine, more broadly, this also fits in with sort of the overall mission that you and your team have in terms of supporting not just this competition, but many other student -- organizations is not really the word -- events, yeah.

>> Marie Planchard: Yeah, no. There's competition, there's challenges and that is true, and we do an amazing job, I feel because we're at so many events, especially this time of year and over the summer. I think our largest is the SAE international competitions. Their collegiate series is formula electric. It's super-mileage hybrid, Baja. They have a host of challenges, even SAE Aero, where a lot of the student members kind of cross-work. If they're into aerospace, they'll do rocket and they'll also do aero competition.

And then we have first robotics at a high school level, along with AUVSI, which is underwater robotics, drones. And then we have our own, which I'm really excited about. We have our own competitions that talk about building more sustainable cities and a better sustainable effort towards humanity. We just introduced a whole-country competition in India called AAKRUTI. And this is about designing for sustainability, designing for humanity. And one of the reasons why we like Spaceport America so much is like for AAKRUTI, every single team has got to have a woman on their team. So, you know, you got to kind of force the rules a little bit to say, "We want you to focus on sustainability, we want you to focus on design, and you need to have women participants."

I think for students, an event like Spaceport, whether it's the team part, the camaraderie, working for a common goal, you know, it's not in the classroom. It's an afterschool event, and it makes an impact on your life that you're going to remember for the rest of your life. And we enjoy being part of that as SolidWorks brand. And I think for students, you don't know what that experience is going to be, and maybe it's a series of experiences.

And for me, it was my father sitting me down in front of a television when I was a little girl, and that television was black and white, and very, very small, and to watch Apollo. And every time there was a launch of the Apollo series, you know, he said, "This is going to determine your future." And I didn't know that I wouldn't become an engineer when I was five years old, but I still remember that to this day, you know, in my family room with my dad. And you get these experiences in life that you know help mold you in what you want to become, and I think being on a team, on a competitive team like Spaceport or any of them, whether it's AAKRUTI or a formula team or a robot team, you get this experience that just becomes part of you.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And we'll be right back.

And welcome back. Now, this little factoid today isn't new news necessarily, but it was certainly new to me, so I guess today's more of a today I learned situation. Now here at T-Minus studios, we sometimes get to talking about things that are happening in life, like the Blink-182 tour that's happening all over the US right now, currently making its way up and down the East Coast, and making the damn day of our executive producer Brandon Karpf, who's a big Blink fan. Sorry, Brandon. I outed you. So when Brandon said there was a space connection (albeit tenuous) to Blink-182, okay, we just had to go down that rabbit hole for fun.

Now we're a show about engineering, science, technology and sound business, not interested in covering the clickbait or pseudoscience stuff, so when we get even anywhere near a story about unidentified aerial phenomena, or generally UFOs, I react with a mix of cold, mild curiosity and a overall feeling of no thanks, but bear with me here. Do you remember in April 2020 (no, not COVID) back when the Pentagon shared a few videos from naval aviators with phenomena that they couldn't identify, and this set off a fever pitch of UFO speculation that would make Mulder and Scully blush?

It ends up that one of the preeminent UFO investigators in the US, if not the world, who had released those same naval aviator videos three years prior to the Pentagon, is lifelong UFO-enthusiast and co-founder, co-lead vocalist and guitarist of Blink-182 Tom DeLonge. Say it ain't so. Yes, seriously, you can google it. And it feels like one of those factoids that will win you trivia night, doesn't it? Just like all the small things, true care, truth brings.

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And that's it for T-Minus for May 24th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. And we'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in our show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment, your people. We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre 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 Varmazis. Thanks for listening. See you tomorrow.

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