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Harnessing power from the sun.

Caltech wirelessly transmits solar power from space to Earth. Shenzhou 15 crew returns to Earth. Northrop Grumman secures AFRL comms contract. And more.





Caltech’s MAPLE beams wireless power in space. China’s Shenzhou 15 crew return from the Tiangong space station. Northrop Grumman has been awarded over $80 million from The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct communications experiments using commercial space internet services, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today is Nate Mason, Principal at Starburst Aerospace, on the Starburst business accelerator program, new technology opportunities in the space sector, and startups to watch in 2023.

You can follow Nate on Twitter and LinkedIn and learn about Starburst on their website.

Selected Reading

In a First, Caltech's Space Solar Power Demonstrator Wirelessly Transmits Power in Space- CalTech

China's Shenzhou 15 capsule lands safely with 3 Tiangong space station astronauts- Space.com

Northrop Grumman gets $80 million Air Force contract for satcom experiments- SpaceNews

Starburst Aerospace, MIT, and MassChallenge Join Forces for NATO's Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA)- Yahoo Finance

Top Space Force General Visits Europe to Explore How to Operate Within NATO- Air and Space Forces

Congress asks GAO for review of GeoXO weather satellite program- SpaceNews

Fixed-price satellite contracts earn high grades in Space Force report card- SpaceNews

Arcfield Nets $158M in US Intelligence Space, Ground Systems Integration Contracts- Via Satellite

BlackSky Receives Multi-Million Contract From International Ministry of Defense Customer- Via Satellite

Cybersecurity Gaps Could Put Astronauts at Grave Risk- IEEE 

European agency aims to develop spacecraft to take astronauts to Moon- Financial Times

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>> Maria Varmazis: Maple, you can tap it for its delicious syrup. Its leaf adorns the flag of Canada, stunning red and orange colors in the fall. And MAPLE is also an experiment successfully demonstrating wireless power transmission in space thanks to the brilliant minds at Caltech.

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Today is June 5th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Cal Tech's MAPLE beams wireless power in space. Shenzhou 15 crew is back home. Northrop's latest contract is a DEUCSI. NATO partners with Starburst and MIT, and my interview with Nate Mason, Principal at Starburst Aerospace on the Starburst Business Accelerator Program, new technology opportunities in the space sector, and startups to watch in 2023. Stay with us.

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Now, let's take a look at our intel briefing for today. As we said at the top of the show, Caltech announced that its space solar power prototype called MAPLE successfully transmitted power wirelessly in space for the very first time. MAPLE stands for Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment, and it is aboard Cal Tech's Space Solar Power Demonstrator 1 (or SSPD 1), the first spacecraft in the university's space solar power project.

MAPLE beamed power to an onboard receiver about a foot away from its transmitter to light up some onboard LEDs as a demonstration, proof that even in the extraordinarily harsh environment of space, wireless power transmission can work. MAPLE also beamed down energy to a receiver on the Caltech campus successfully. Both were very necessary proofs of concept for this kind of power generation to ever work on a larger scale.

Indeed, the idea is that one day we might be able to tap into the basically unlimited power of solar energy we can get in space, with constellations of craft that can capture the sunlight, transform its electricity while still in orbit, and then beam it down to locations on Earth. Ali Hajimiri, Bren Professor of electrical engineering and medical engineering, and co-director of this project, said this, "In the same way that the internet democratized access to information, we hope that wireless energy transfer democratizes access to energy. No energy transmission infrastructure will be needed on the ground to receive this power. That means we can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster."

Now, Caltech is not the only group working on wireless power transmission from space. JAXA and Kyoto University previously announced their own plans for a similar experiment with a target of 2025. May all these efforts yield good data and help move this technology forward.

Chinese taikonauts Fei Junlong, Deng Quingming, and Zhang Lu touched down in their Shenzhou 15 spacecraft return capsule at the Dongfeng landing site on Saturday. The Shenzhou 15 crew were part of the first-ever crew handover on the Tiangong Space Station, which China hopes to keep in continuous operation for the next decade.

Northrop Grumman has been awarded over $80 million US from the US Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct communications experiments using commercial space internet services. The contract was awarded through AFRL's Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet, which is known as DEUCSI. The program is working with defense contractors and commercial satcom providers to figure out how to integrate commercial space internet services with military platforms and weapon systems. Northrup Grumman was awarded a four-year contract to connect military platforms, such as aircraft and ground vehicles, with commercial space internet constellations that operate in geostationary, medium, and low-Earth orbits.

NATO's Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, known as DIANA, has partnered with Starburst Aerospace, Mission Innovation X at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (known as MIT Mix), and MassChallenge. The partnership aims to expand access to resources for startups from across NATO nations. NATO's DIANA program supports emerging and disruptive dual-use technologies that address critical transatlantic defense needs and security challenges.

The initiative aims to foster a new generation of deep tech entrepreneurs. Starburst, MIT Mix, and MassChallenge were selected by NATO to assist the alliance in identifying solutions related to dual-use technologies and interallied exchange and diversity. The partnership will roll out the next phase of DIANA's expansion to include the launch of the first of several competition-style programs. And we'll have more on Starburst's accelerator program later in the show when I speak to Nate Mason, who is Starburst Aerospace and Defense venture capital startup advisor.

Now staying with NATO, and the US Space Force is preparing for future operations with the alliance. Chief Operations Officer for the USSF Lieutenant General DeAnna Burt visited Germany late last month to receive a briefing on NATO space operations at the NATO Space Center at Ramstein Air Base. Burt visited the space center within NATO Allied Air Command to learn and understand how the US can best integrate and support the alliance's space mission. In December 2019, NATO heads of state and government declared space as the alliance's fifth domain of operations alongside land, sea, air and cyberspace. This opened the opportunity for information sharing, capability building, and multilateral cooperation amongst NATO allies and partners.

You know, we often talk about the rising costs in space developments in this show, and how quickly budgets slip, so it should come as no surprise that the US Air Force is celebrating fixed-price contracts in a new report to the US Congress. The report lists the best and worst-performing space programs and identify two Space Force satellite programs, the Global Positioning System Follow-on and the Weather System Follow-on as high-performing, in part because they were acquired under fixed price contracts and not the traditional military cost-plus acquisitions.

And speaking of rising budget concerns, the Chairman of the House Science Committee and a ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee have requested a review of NOAA's geostationary extended operations (known as GeoXO) program of next generation weather satellites, citing concerns with cost overruns and delays. NOAA has projected that it will spend nearly $20 billion US over the life of the GeoXO program, which is nearly double what it spent on the predecessor program known as GOES-R.

The members of the two oversight committees have asked the Government Accountability Office to examine if NOAA has followed best practices and statutory guidance in setting cost estimates for GeoXO. They are looking for the GAO to review the design and development of the program, assess NOAA's strategies to stay on cost and schedule, and look at how NOAA has incorporated lessons learned from GOES-R.

A US intelligence agency has awarded Arcfield $158 million in multiple classified systems contracts during the first quarter of 2023. Arcfield announced the contracts without identifying the intelligence agency. The company itself provides system engineering and integration capabilities to the US intelligence community, Department of Defense, and other agencies.

And BlackSky technology has announced a multimillion-dollar renewal contract to provide advanced subscription-based tactical imagery and analytic services to an unnamed international Ministry of Defense customer. The geospatial intelligence company supports a number of international customers with its satellite constellation, and Spectra AI tasking and analytics platform. The company claims it can deliver on-demand imagery and analytics within 90 minutes to its global customers.

And cybersecurity startup Galvanick has announced that the company has raised $10 million US in its latest seed round. Galvanick is working to produce cybersecurity solutions for protecting industrial infrastructure against cyberattacks, an area that space companies are increasingly concerned with. We have included the IEEE's writeup on cybersecurity gaps in space in the selected Reading section on our website, you can always find at space.n2k.com.

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Hey T-Minus crew, speaking of Mondays, on every Monday, we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called "Signals and Space" so if you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes (and we hope you don't), this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal no noise. You can sign up for "Signals and Space" in our show notes or at space.n2k.com. And stay with us now for our chat with Nate Mason, Principal at the Starburst accelerator program on companies to look out for in 2023.

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Today we're talking to Nate Mason, Principal at the Starburst accelerator program. We start our conversation first with the approach that Starburst uses for its accelerator programs.

>> Nate Mason: We play within what we call stealth to series A in the startup funnel. And the two styles of accelerators that we operate are either programmatic or our flagship. And how that's broken down is essentially, if you think of a programmatic program, it's going to be cohort-based. There are 13-week programs, curriculum-based. And so the founders come in. They all, you know, are working together through the various curriculum and, you know, building this community and network with one another. And then if you think about the flagship, this one is a little bit more white glove service that we provide our founders. It's a rolling admission versus like the programmatic which, you know, we have applications that go out at a specific time, and review those all together, but on the flagship side, it's I'm constantly scouring the whole ecosystem to find potential startups to bring in.

And what we do with those founders, instead of being like cohort-based, there's still opportunities for community and networking and all of that, because I think that is very -- that's -- it's valuable to, you know, to be together and to work with one another, but we develop custom roadmaps with the founders and kind of target like what their specific needs is, because as you can imagine, if you're a seed-stage company raising a Series A, it's going to be different from a pre-seed company doing a seed-stage fundraise, right? So it's all customized based on the needs of the particular teams that we're working with.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well, sure. And can you talk a little bit about maybe what startups you're working with right now, or maybe if you can't, more broadly, like what kind of technologies you guys are helping to develop right now?

>> Nate Mason: Yeah. One that we've -- I've been working with, it was actually the first company that I signed to the portfolio, so I'm pretty proud of this one, but it's called TRL11. It's a -- the founder is a serial entrepreneur. Just to give some context on Nicol, he had a successful exit with his previous startup, which revolutionized the way Hollywood and the entertainment industry record, you know, media. So if you can remember like, there's like, used to be like these huge cranes that to create like an aerial footage, or to create the -- a perception of an aerial footage, or they use helicopters, or there was like, tons of cables that the cameras had to be connected to because obviously, they wanted like a high-data throughput.

Well, what Nicol was able to do with his previous company was make all of that wireless, and still have like, low delay, high throughput in the recordings. And so what he's doing now is bringing that same technology, all of that, you know, engineering expertise to space. And so now we're, you know, in space are putting, like 4k video streaming in space. So this is going to be for space situational awareness, Earth observation, tell operations, all of those cool things that are happening. I think it's a big deal, because right now, if you think about, like how tell operations happen or, you know, when something's launched into space, like how do you know it's successfully made it into orbit? And it's through telemetry. It's like, through data.

But now with TRL11, you're going to be able to watch it, and so if there's a failure that happens and occurs in space, or during the launch, like, you're going to be able to watch it live, and get like that peer -- that footage and understand exactly what happened and not have to, you know, kind of rely on telemetry data to kind of poke around and figure out like, what went wrong or what went right?

>> Maria Varmazis: Did TRL11 know that there would be a potential space application for this technology? Or was that something that you approached them and said, "Hey, did you know that this would be really handy in this context?"

>> Nate Mason: Oh, no, no. So Nicol was already developing this, and I found them through just deal flow, and so he was developing this. He actually just closed a $3 million pre-seed round. He was already really interested in space, and he saw that there was this capability to, you know, to bring this capability, this video, 4k streaming into space. And if you talk to him, he always says, you know, like, if you think about email or social media or home security, everything kind of starts off, you know, analog, where you know, it's like text-based or, you know, you have an alarm with a sound that goes off, but it all moves to video.

Like you can't get onto social media now without seeing just tons of videos in your streaming or, you know, everyone has home security that's now video or, you know, like, there's so much value in video, and so he saw all of that and, you know, was really interested in space and saw that the capability hasn't been brought to space yet and, you know, took the opportunity to build it and to do it.

>> Maria Varmazis: So we're talking about like new opportunities for technology, so let's broaden that bit. Like what other maybe new technology opportunities are you seeing in aerospace and defense that you're really excited about?

>> Nate Mason: I think what I'm excited about is the biotech applications that are being built. There's a lot more challenges to doing science in space, and I mean, you know, the thought is if you're able to overcome those challenges and hurdles and produce something in space, then there's probably an application for it down here on Earth. But, you know, space health when it comes to human health, think of microgravity with being able to do things in space that you're not able to do here with like around like 3D printing of organic materials, and yeah, just generally, you know, pharma research and all those things. I think that's really exciting.

Our Managing Director, Elizabeth Reynolds, has a background in biology, and so she brings that flair to Starburst and that understanding, that expertise, and has been able to like pull in a lot of experts into this field and startup founders that, you know, I think, traditionally, we wouldn't have thought about. The nexus between biotech and space is kind of -- it's hard to wrap your mind around a little, because you -- I don't think you -- I don't naturally think about that, but I think there's a lot of exciting advancements happening in that arena, for sure.

I think we forget how much influence space can have on our everyday life down here on Earth, and that's what's exciting to me about, like what's happening with the biotech sphere, right? Like what's happening today like that can -- that's going to impact us in 20 years that we have no idea and, you know, you just go into your office in 20 years or your pharmacy, and you pick up something and have no idea that like it was originally like developed in space.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm going to switch gears a little bit thinking more broadly about the current challenges in the market, and also just as we're seeing companies trying to develop, trying to go through these different funding rounds and, you know, capital is tight right now, what does the industry need for success moving forward?

>> Nate Mason: The economic macrotrends right now are definitely trending downward, and we've seen -- I think the last data point I read was like, there's like a 60% decrease in venture deals, if you compare just like 12 months, from 12 months ago. But on the on the startup side, like what we need are just, you know, founders that are solving real problems that have -- you know, that they're not building a solution in search of a problem, just those core fundamentals of, you know, working with -- if you think about on the defense side, working with an end user in mind, that kind of like Amazon ethos of being customer obsessed, right, like, actually working backwards and building a solution that for a problem that exists.

I know we need, like, you know, people that are thinking outside of the box, and potential opportunities that are going to happen on the moon, and all of those things. Yes, but I think right now, in the current environment we find ourselves, it's really important just to remember those core fundamentals of like, building a business and having a solution, like I said, that solves a real problem and has customers. A lot of times, I think, you know, you'll think you have a great idea, and it may be an awesome idea, and you can build it but, you know, at the end of the day, if no one's willing to pay for it, you know, you're not going to be successful.

>> Maria Varmazis: What are we looking for in 2023?

>> Nate Mason: I think what I'm most excited about is just the ecosystem that's developing out still in LEO. There's a company called Starfish Space. It's one of our portfolio companies that just closed out a Series A, $14 million Series A round, and what they're doing is building like in-orbit servicing. So they have the Otter Pup. Like if you go to YouTube and search Starfish Otter Pup, it's a really cool like two minute video. What they're building basically is to help us manage the massive infrastructure that we have up there in LEO.

And if you look at the projections of assets that are going to be, you know, in orbit by 2030, some estimates are, you know, predict there are going to be 100,000 satellites in space. And to give you context, right now, we have about five to seven, so that's a massive increase of assets in space, and so obviously, you're going to need, you know, other companies up there that are able to, you know, do servicing and extend life or remove debris and all of those things just to keep the, you know, the chaos in control.

And so that's a company that I'm really looking forward to see them grow. And one trend I've picked up on is when an engineer leads one of these exciting big space companies and they're developing new a new solution for a problem that exists in the market, oftentimes they've lived on the West Coast and have been part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and not really connected to like the defense infrastructure that exists like, say, in DC. And so when I chat with a lot of founders, what I've been picking up on is a lot of them are starting to understand that ecosystem and actually develop dual-use capabilities, right? Like if you obviously have a satellite that can remove debris or -- like Starfish, there's obviously like intelligence or defense applications that can be applied to that as well, right, for the United States.

And so this trend of aerospace just exploding number one in Los Angeles and Southern California, it has -- there's been a 3x explosion in the past two years in startup activity just here. And so this trend of just more economic activity and aerospace that are building dual-use capabilities, you know, this is pretty exciting, I think, because it's bringing a new innovation model to like the government procurement sector, in which now instead of like, building solutions internally and taking a very long time to get, you know, whatever solution into their ecosystem, they can turn to the startup community here in California and procure those resources and have something, you know, into their mission set within, you know, six months to a year versus 5 years or 10 years.

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And we'll be right back. And welcome back, and today we're doing two looks back in time to celebrate two notable milestones in space. First, let's go all the way back to 1998 if you remember it, and yes, it pains me to say that, too. 25 years ago on June 1st, 1998, the STS 91 mission via the Space Shuttle Discovery was the last American visit to the Russian space station Mir. The six-member crew of the Discovery brought supplies to the Mir 25 cosmonauts, brought NASA astronaut Andrew S.W. Thompson home, and also brought the Shuttle Mir program which started back in 1992, to a close.

Later that year, in November 1998, was when the first components for the International Space Station launched to orbit. And now fast forward a little bit to a much more recent year 2010, hopefully a year you remember. On June 4th, 2010, the hardest gosh darned working rocket ever, the SpaceX Falcon 9, successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral and reached orbit for the very first time, and now we've recently hit 200 successful launches for this incredible vehicle. Time certainly flies when you're having that much fun, ey, Falcon 9?

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That's it for T-Minus for June 5th, 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 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. We're privileged that NTK 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 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. See you tomorrow.

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