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Quantum Leaps in global navigation.

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. And more.





The UK’s Royal Navy has successfully tested a quantum navigation system. Space Force awards Northrop Grumman a weather satellite launch contract. Orbit Fab selects Impulse Space’s vehicle to host a fuel depot for an in-orbit refueling demonstration for the US Space Force. NASA completes its TROPICs constellation, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s episode is former NASA Astronaut Colonel Eileen Collins talking about current human spaceflight launches and future missions to Mars. 

Col. Collins has released a new book “Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission” and you can connect with her on LinkedIn.


Selected Reading

Royal Navy's experimental ship carries out first trial of quantum navigation system- Sky

£37bn added to UK economy by aerospace and defence- Aerospace Manufacturing

Northrop Grumman wins $45 million Space Force contract to launch small weather satellite- Space News

Orbit Fab selects Impulse Space’s orbital vehicle for in-space refueling demo- Space News

The Space Force’s new fitness regime has landed- Air Force Times

Rocket Lab launches 2 tiny NASA hurricane-watching probes to orbit- Space.com

SpaceX investment in Starship approaches $5 billion- Space News

Planet and UAE Space Agency Forge Climate Change Partnership- Via Satellite

Intuitive Machines Lunar Landing Site Moves to South Pole- NASA

Space Hero and Partners Launch Innovative Space Village, Boosting Space Tourism- Space Daily

Weather Network Needed For Precision Human Landings On Mars, Says ESA- Forbes

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>> Maria Varmazis: Ever since the dawn of trade, navigation has been key to human society. And like any technology, it's also rife with wicked problems, nowhere more so than on the open ocean. After all, it's pretty easy to figure out where you are, based on that odd-looking rock over there. But that doesn't work so well with that one odd-looking seagull.

But in 1761, an Englishman named John Harrison invented something that revolutionized navigation. It was called the marine chronometer, and it solved the problem of calculating longitude at sea. Now today, we all rely on that constellation of satellites and medium Earth orbit called GPS for position, navigation, and timing.

And boy, do we rely on it. By some estimates, losing GPS service would result in $1 billion in losses every day. That's a new wicked navigation problem.

>> Unidentified Person 1: And it seems, once again, the British are coming to the rescue. You're welcome, Maria.

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>> Unidentified Person 2: T-Minus, 20 seconds to LOA.

>> Unidentified Person 3: Go for deploy.

>> Unidentified Person 2: Roger all.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is May 26, 2023. Happy Friday. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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The UK's Royal Navy has successfully tested a quantum navigation system. Space Force awards Northrop Grumman a weather satellite launch contract. NASA completes its TROPICs constellations. And my conversation with former NASA astronaut Colonel Eileen Collins, about current human spaceflight launches and future missions to Mars. Stay with us for that one.

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And now, for today's Intel briefing. The Royal Navy has successfully tested a quantum navigation system developed by physicists at Imperial College London. And it uses the quantum behavior of supercooled rubidium atoms to enable precise positioning without the use of GPS.

So, why is this a big deal? Well, GPS is rife with issues, especially in areas of conflict. The signal is easy to manipulate and spoof, even easier to jam, and the satellites themselves are unfortunately vulnerable to attack and manipulation. And we don't have a viable backup system in place.

The technology tested by the Royal Navy uses the quantum properties of atoms to accurately measure the vessel speed and direction without the need for an external reference. Now, inertial navigation isn't new. It's been used by submarines for decades with laser inertial navigation systems. However, they rely on complex gyroscopes to measure a submarine's change in position over time. And those are highly susceptible to accumulation errors, vibration, and motion sensitivity.

Laser inertial navigation is only useful for short durations, and still rely on frequent GPS fixes to maintain accuracy. So, the hope with quantum inertial navigation is that it will maintain accuracy for long-duration voyages. Despite its promising functionality, the challenge lies in making the system robust enough to operate in real-world conditions like fluctuating magnetic fields and vibrations.

So, it's still early days. But with continued success, this quantum accelerometer could revolutionize maritime navigation, offering a novel and highly precise alternative to satellite-based systems. Lord Nelson would be proud.

And staying with the UK for just a moment. The latest report from the UK Aerospace Defense and Space Trade Group, the ADS Group, says UK-based Aerospace Defense and Space industry added over 37 billion pounds, and that's 45 billion US dollars, to the UK economy in 2022, alone. An additional 36 billion pounds was generated in UK exports and 83 billion pounds in total sales.

Amy Stone, Chief Economist at ADS Group, put this data in context. Participants in the supply chain and major manufacturers have been reporting rising costs and challenges to increasing output. But at the same time, sentiment and outlook across the industries is positive with expectations of improvements this year in output and investment terms.

Over to the US now, and Space Force has awarded a $45.5 million contract to Northrop Grumman to launch a small weather satellite. Northrop's Minotaur 4 rocket will launch the Space Force's electro-optical infrared weather system prototype to demonstrate commercial weather imaging technologies for military use. The weather satellite was designed and made by General Atomics and will go to low Earth orbit for a three-year demonstration.

Orbit Fab has selected Impulse Space's orbital vehicle to host a fuel depot for an in-orbit refueling demonstration for the US Space Force. The demonstration plan for 2025 will be to refuel Space Force's Tetra-5 spacecraft with up to 50 kilograms of hydrazine. The demonstration has been funded by the Space Force and the Defense Innovation Unit.

Now, stop the presses, or we're a podcast, so, you know, metaphorically speaking, the military may no longer require those crazy fitness tests. Rumor has it that the Space Force is paving the way to update the annual fitness test moving towards monitoring tech. Space Force plans to conduct a two-year testing period where guardians will use wearable fitness trackers as part of its newly unveiled fitness policy. Let's see if the other branches of the military decide to follow suit or not.

And on to NASA now, and their TROPICS satellite constellation is finally complete, hitching a ride on Rocket Lab's electron vehicle from New Zealand. The final two of the storm tracking satellite team were deployed in orbit today. The mission, called "Coming to a Storm Near You", was the second that Rocket Lab launched for TROPICS, which is short for "Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Small Sats". The hope is that the constellation will be ready ahead of the coming US storm season.

And Space News is reporting that court filings by SpaceX estimate that the company's total investment in the starship program is up to $5 billion. Yes, that's with a B. You know, they say that space is hard, but they always forget to mention that it is crazy expensive. Now, we mentioned earlier that SpaceX was motivated to jump in as a defendant in a lawsuit against the FAA, which was filed by environmental groups. And boy, do we now understand why they are so keen to defend their $5 billion investment.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency is partnering with Planet to build a regional satellite system to monitor climate change. The system will include a data facility focused on compiling data for climate-vulnerable countries for the purposes of assessing damages caused by extreme weather events. The UAE and Planet plan to make the data collected available to governments, NGOs, and related parties so that they can develop insights on climate-related topics such as population distribution, wildfire and flood risks, agricultural productivity and food security, and physical assets.

NASA and Intuitive Machines have announced that they are moving the landing site for the first Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission as a step in managing risks for future Artemis landings. Intuitive Machines announced earlier this month that its first lunar lander mission has slipped into the third quarter of this year. And the mission will carry six NASA payloads focused on demonstrating communications, navigations, and precision landing technology. Now, NASA's decision to move from the original landing site was based on a need to learn more about terrain and communications near the moon's south pole, which is expected to be one of the best locations for a sustained human presence on the moon.

And a happy note from ESA. Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer or JUICE has indeed reached its final form. ESA confirms that all solar panels, antennas, probes, and booms on the Jovian explorer, including that instrumentation for a rhyme that got stuck before some creative thinking and shaking got some things moving. They're all now deployed. Now, to turn everything on and begin the long journey to Jupiter. Go JUICE.

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And that concludes our intel briefing for today. You can check out all the stories we have covered and more in the Selected Reading section on our website, space.n2k.com. And stay with us for my chat with former NASA astronaut and Air Force Test Pilot Colonel Eileen Collins.

And, hey, T-Minus crew, tune in tomorrow for T-Minus "Deep Space", our show for extended interviews, special editions, and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry. And tomorrow, we have Colonel Eileen Collins, the first woman to fly and command a space shuttle mission. Check it out while you're grilling or doing the spring cleaning this weekend. You don't want to miss it.

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And here in America, Monday is Memorial Day, our annual holiday to honor the memory of those military members who died while serving their country. While you're taking advantage of the great weather, grilling with family, and enjoying the long weekend, please take a moment to remember the sacrifice of those brave men and women. Gone but not forgotten.

And so, on Monday, we're taking the day off from publishing T-Minus "Space Daily". But we do have a surprise for you that we'll drop in the feed. It's a little side project that we're working on, and we hope you enjoy it. We'll return on Tuesday with your regularly scheduled podcast.

My guest today is Colonel Eileen Collins, former NASA astronaut. She has flown to space four times, twice as a pilot, and twice as a commander. And I should note she was also the first woman to pilot the space shuttle. So, who better to ask than an astronaut about putting humans into space? Especially as we see more private companies getting astronauts to space, I wanted to hear her thoughts on the current and future state of human spaceflight. Here's some of our conversation.

>> Colonel Eileen Collins: So, let's take the Axiom Mission, which launched Sunday, May 21. And this- these Axiom flex. So, Axiom Space is a private company. They are sort of an intermediary for private astronauts that want to fly in space, specifically, go to the United States Space Station. Now, our International Space Station is the United States National Lab. And it's international. We've got other countries involved, you know, Russia, Japan, the Europeans are involved in that.

But there is opportunities for private people to do research on the space station. So, they do that through Axiom. So, this Axiom- the second launch actually went up earlier this week. And they are non-NASA astronauts. In fact, two of them are from Saudi Arabia. One is a private pilot, private citizen, who's funding his own flight. And then, the commander is Peggy Whitson, who's a former NASA astronaut. So, they're going to be on the space station for about 10 days.

This is not a US government flight. The taxpayers are not paying for it. If anything, the taxpayers are benefiting from it. And so, that's different. So, when we flew the space shuttle for 30 years back from 1981 through 2011, the Space Shuttle Program was totally a government program. And it was owned and operated by NASA. And now, as spaceflight is becoming more common, it's becoming safer, you see more and more people flying.

And by the way, you did ask about the Virgin Galactic flight. That is a completely private company. And they are doing another test flight. They're taking up six people, but they're all company people, two pilots, and all four engineers from the company are doing a test flight. And if that's successful, they'll start flying private passengers. Last I knew, the private passengers are paying for this flight. And it's just, it's just, you know, maybe a half an hour to an hour flight. But they do go to space.

>> Maria Varmazis: What do the civilians? I mean, these are especially, there are civilians on these flights. What can they expect when they go up to suborbital space?

>> Colonel Eileen Collins: Yeah. So, the suborbital flight. So, Virgin Galactic does a suborbital flight. So, which means they do not go around the Earth. These orbital flights actually go around the Earth. They orbit. That's what our space station does.

But the Virgin Galactic flight, which it will launch out of New Mexico underneath the wing of a larger aircraft, and the spacecraft gets dropped. They- at about 40,000 feet, they light their engine, and up they go. And they'll go up to over 50 miles. So, what will they expect? A period of time, I'm going to say about five minutes of zero gravity.

This is a piloted flight. So, you will have two pilots up front like you would have in an airplane. And they're actually controlling the flight. And they will- in fact, I know some of the pilots, myself. And I think that they're, they're excellent pilots. They're very trustworthy. So, I think in that respect, it's a very safe flight.

But those in the back, will- they'll unstrap and they'll float around. And they can do experiments if they want. They probably have a little plan on what they're going to do. But when you look out the window from that altitude, over 50 miles, you're going to see a darker sky. You're going to see a curved horizon. You're not going to see the whole earth because you're not high enough to see the entire Earth. But you will see that the earth is definitely not flat. And you- you're going to- and some people say you'll see the stars at noon.

So, I think they're going to have a great experience. The good thing about these flights is the more of them that fly, the safer they will get. And the less expensive they will get in the future, more and more people will have the chance to do that. But, you know, right now, it's just- it's not open to a lot of people because most can't afford the high price tag. But I'm hoping like the evolution of the airplane, the evolution of spaceflight will be happening in our lifetime, and more people can do this.

>> Maria Varmazis: Given that, especially the civilians who are flying on these flights, are there any safety concerns for those folks? I mean, they didn't go through nearly as much rigorous training as you did, for example. So, what does that intro- what kind of risk does that introduce?

>> Colonel Eileen Collins: Yeah, yeah. So, there is risk. There are safety concerns. You know, any flight in space involves risk. But you know, the only way to be totally safe is to never go. And, you know, that's not the kind of people we are. We want to go and explore. So, I am sure that each of these passengers that will be, that will be going up on the flight will go through a minimum of safety training.

For example, what if there's a fire? What if there's a loss of cabin pressure? You know you need to put your oxygen on if there's a loss of cabin pressure. Hopefully, they won't- that won't happen in 50 miles because your time of useful consciousness is basically less than one second. So, I- you don't want things like that to happen.

They will not be wearing pressure suits because, you know, that's- that adds a whole another layer of complication. And if you have a, what I would say a tight aircraft that is built pretty solid, it's not going to leak, then you can make a case for not taking a pressure suit. So, they'll do a minimum of training to understand the spacecraft. Probably one other thing is if you have to land in an emergency, how would you do an emergency evacuation, things like that? But I think it's probably pretty minimal. But they will get the training because, honestly, the training is part of the experience. And people like to do that.

>> Maria Varmazis: So, going to switch gears for a moment from human spaceflight to, that's happening right now, to looking ahead to Moon to Mars, specifically, the Mars replication simulation. I'm not sure how to describe it. The simulator environment that the experiment is going to be happening this summer hasn't been as big news as I think it should have been. So, I'd like to talk about it a little bit. What is that? And what kind of experiments are they going to be conducting during this very long mission?

>> Colonel Eileen Collins: Right. So, this mission, I- will take place out of Johnson Space Center. So, it's on the ground. And it's a simulation. It is a- about a 17-to-1,900-square-foot facility. There will be four people that have volunteered, they were actually selected, to go into the simulation for a year. And they're going to start sometime in June. This will start. And I know you're going to see more of it in the news.

Now, there have been simulations like this in the past that were not run by the government. They were run by private companies. And they've had various levels of success. This one, I think, is going to be very interesting in the fact that these four people will be locked up in, basically in quarantine for a year. And I think that the psychological side of it is going to be the most interesting.

Now, on the scientific side, they are being given experiments to do that are similar to what the astronauts will do on Mars, such as growing plants, you know, making sure you have a food supply. Either doing- you know, Mars has got a very dusty environment. So, they will be doing spacewalks, simulated spacewalks, because there's also an outside part of this simulation chamber that looks like the surface of Mars with dust in a painted landscape. So, they will be practicing surface spacewalks, going out, and doing geology.

And I know that engineers will set up things for them to do. Things like collecting rocks, or doing engineering on the solar panels. And, by the way, all of the electricity that will be generated on Mars, for now, will be through solar panels. Eventually, down the road, there will be for- because solar is going to get dusty, and they will wear out over time. But if you have a small nuclear device that can provide electricity, that's something that's even farther off in the future. That won't be part of the simulation. But they will have solar arrays.

And so, they'll be doing a variety of experiments. And I think the real- the key thing and the thing that I'm interested in watching is, how are they getting along with each other, these four people? And how are they handling the fact that they're in quarantine? And you can't just go out and get a cheeseburger, or you can't, you know, go out and get some sun on your face or go for a run.

They will have exercise equipment. I know that. And they will have access to the Internet and the telephone. And they'll be able to interact, like, if you remember yourself working from home during the pandemic, it will be something like that, but you can't go out. I personally think I'd have a hard time with this. And I have flown in space four times. So, we'll see how it goes if they can always call Uncle and say, "I'm done. Let me out." But then, you would have a failure. So, there's going to be some pressure on them to stick it out.

It- probably the biggest challenge is selecting the right people to do this. So, to do the simulation. But we also have to select the right people that will eventually go to Mars as part of NASA's Artemis program. And that's the reason why NASA is doing this is to help evaluate what kind of characteristics do we want in our Mars astronauts because they're going to need to be very strong people mentally, emotionally, as well as physically strong.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And I should note, this was about half of our interview. It was a fascinating conversation. And you can hear the whole thing, including her reflections on her career and the book she recently wrote tomorrow in our special edition that we call "Deep Space".

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We'll be right back.

And welcome back. You know, there have been a number of on-Earth simulations for scientists and future explorers to understand the rigors of life in Mars-like conditions. The Mars Desert Research Station in Utah has been conducting two-to-three-week missions for almost two decades now. And as we chatted about with Colonel Eileen Collins in today's interview, the CHAPEA ground-based mission starts in Houston next month, and it'll run for a whole year.

Weeks or a year of total isolation above ground is hard enough. You probably remember 2020 and can attest to that. Could you imagine going through that kind of isolation completely underground? Well, researchers at the UK's University of Birmingham are working on a new lab in Boulby Mine in North Yorkshire, one of the biggest mines in the UK, and it's 1.1 kilometers underground. It's called the Bio-SPHERE or Biomedical Subsurface Pod for Habitability and Extreme-environments Research in Expeditions.

And as you might imagine, it's hard to stay healthy or talk with people above ground at such depths. But being underground has its benefits, too. Protection from deep space radiation being a big one. So, using that tough underground terrain is a good simulation for just how scientific and medical operations could take place on the moon or on Mars.

Now, nobody's moving in just yet. Right now, there's a biomedical simulation module in the biosphere. But if living underground long-term sounds like your cup of tea, perhaps give the University of Birmingham a call.

And a closing note now that today happens to be Sally Ride's birthday. She was an accomplished physicist, CAPCOM for the STS-2 mission where she became the first woman to serve as CAPCOM. And for the ST-7, she became the first American woman to fly to space in 1983 at the age of 32. Sally Ride was also the first known LGBT astronaut. And, sadly, she passed away in 2012 from pancreatic cancer at only 61.

Now, the ancient Greeks believed that the gods made great heroes and legends into constellations after their death. So, wherever you are Sally Ride, you are undoubtedly amongst the brightest of stars, and we wish you a happy birthday.

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And that's it for T-Minus for May 26, 2023. 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 our podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit our survey in the 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 Elliot Peltzman and Tre Hester, with original music and sound designed by Elliott Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thank you for listening and have a wonderful weekend.

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>> Unidentified Person 2: T-Minus.

>> Unidentified Person 3: Gone.

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