US Space Force assigns 12 new missions to SpaceX and ULA. GAO finds red flags in Space Force procurements. Is China planning to spy from Cuba? And...
Hyped for Hypersonic.
Purdue University opens the doors to a new hypersonics testing facility. ULA’s Vulcan gets fired up. Ohio wades in on the bid to host Space Command. And more.
Purdue University’s Applied Research Institute opened the doors to a new 65,000-square-foot Hypersonics and Applied Research Facility. ULA achieves a nominal six-second test fire of the two BE-4 engines of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. Firefly Aerospace has acquired Spaceflight Inc. for an undisclosed amount, and more.
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Today’s guest is Dennis Burnett, General Counsel of Hawkeye 360 Inc. an American geospatial analytics company.
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>> Maria Varmazis: Imagine traveling between two points nearly anywhere in the globe in less than an hour. If you've ever been on a long-haul flight, I'm sure you've dreamed about it. From New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes; Los Angeles to Toronto, just 24 minutes; London to Dubai in a mere 29 minutes. Sure would be nice, but how? Hypersonic travel, of course, and the U.S. just announced new testing to bring us one step closer to making it a reality.
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Today is June 8th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.
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Purdue University opens the doors to a new hypersonics testing facility. Vulcan gets fired up. A new state enters the fray on the bid to host Space Command. NASA's concerns for Artemis 3. And my conversation with Dennis Burnett, General Counsel at HawkEye 360 on navigating ITAR.
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And now for today's Intel Briefing. Hypersonic travel has been a hot topic within the aerospace industry for a long time. Those numbers I shared at the top of the show were originally touted by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk when he discussed producing a hypersonic plane back in 2017, which is still in the works, by the way. So imagine how excited us space nerds are after finding out that Purdue University and the Pentagon are collaborating on a hypersonic testing facility. Purdue's Applied Research Institute opened the doors to a new 65,000 square foot Hypersonics and Applied Research Facility this week. The building boasts a Mach 8 wind tunnel, a hypersonic pulse shock tunnel, and an advanced manufacturing technology center, all under one roof. Of course, the main focus of the facility is advanced hypersonic weapons, but with propulsions that are bound to get the industry hyper-excited. And nothing gets the heart rates of us space nerds racing quite like 1 million pounds of thrust. And thanks to the folks at United Launch Alliance, our team were whooping at the sound and sight of Vulcan's test fire last night. During last night's flight readiness firing at 9:05 Eastern time, ULA managed a nominal six-second test fire of the two BE-4 engines of the new Vulcan Centaur rocket. This test was to prove the vehicle's flight readiness, and it seems like everything looked good. With this success, the inaugural flight of the Vulcan Centaur is hopefully close on the horizon, though no solid dates have been announced yet. It could be later this summer, but whenever it happens, we'll be thrilled to see it. And now on to our absolute favorite subject: where will Space Command's HQ be? And we know it's been between Alabama and Colorado. But another state wants to know, how can I make this about me? Some savvy lawmakers are noticing the Alabama-Colorado fray and sensing a potential opportunity there as roughly half of Ohio's congressional delegation have requested that the Biden administration just sidestep the entire fracas and place the Space Force headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. So why Ohio? Why not Ohio? And let's just see how the administration and the Air Force respond to that pitch. And speaking of Space Command, leaders are scrambling to clarify last week's announcement that they're taking over new missile defense responsibilities. For the record, Space Command is not getting in the business of responding to missile strikes or shooting them down. No, no, that remains the responsibility of regional military commands if an attack happens overseas, or if the U.S. Northern Command in the U.S. were targeted. What the new responsibilities do is put one command in charge of the sensors that track missiles and threats in outer space. An important clarification there to be sure. We're all on the same page now, right? The Space Systems Command's Commercial Space Office says it plans to release a draft framework for how commercial satellite services could be called up in times of crisis or conflict to support military missions. The SSC will also be holding an official Industry Day to seek feedback on the plans in the coming weeks. The Commercial Space Office, or COMSO to friends, is working on a space parallel to the existing Air Force and Navy civil reserve fleets, which allow those services to call up non-military vehicles in times of need. So we're not even near the launch of Artemis 2 yet, but NASA is already concerned with delays in Artemis 3. Why? You can probably guess if you've been following what's been going on with SpaceX's Starship. NASA says that the lunar lander version of SpaceX's Starship faces a serious uphill battle to be ready for a launch date in 2025. SpaceX needs to get a lot of testing and launches in between now and the Artemis 3 target of late 2025. And right now the vehicle is grounded following concerns with its first launch attempt in April. NASA says it's pushing for the FAA to resolve its investigation into April's launch, but with environmental groups suing the FAA and SpaceX, we think this may take a little more time than everyone involved would like. A delay in a space program? Never. Now it's taking everything in me not to use the cliched "space is hard" phrase. Might have to start putting a coin in a "space is hard" jar every time I say it. But speaking of money, you get a grant, and you get a grant, and oh, so do you. NASA has just handed out $45 million to 249 small businesses and 39 research institutions. T-Minus brought you the news of the Phase I grants application through the space agency's Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, and Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, programs last month. Now, that application has yielded a strong response from small businesses, and NASA says each of them is receiving a $150,000 grant. Among the awardees are our friends at Starfish Space, who are developing the Nautilus in-space docking and capture mechanism. So congratulations to them. Firefly Aerospace has acquired Spaceflight Incorporated for an undisclosed amount. Firefly says the acquisition will strengthen the company's on-orbit solutions and service the entire lifecycle of customers' satellites and spacecraft. Their merger further supports Firefly's portfolio of low-cost space transportation services, including responsive launch and in-space mobility, on-orbit hosting and servicing, and lunar delivery operations. Now, we at T-Minus like to think of ourselves as a light meal for digesting Space News, like a tapas or menze [phonetic] perhaps, but we're adding in an acronym sandwich in this story. The Space Development Agency, known as SDA, has given the Science Applications International Corporation, known as the SAIC, a 64 million U.S. dollar contract. The award to SAIC is to develop, implement, and maintain the Battle Management Command, Control, and Communications, known as BMC3, application factory for the agency's constellation of LEO, or low Earth orbit satellites, called the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, known as PWSA. The PWSA is a critical component to the U.S. Department of Defense's, or DOD's, Joint All Domain Command and Control strategy, known as JADC2, providing data communications and accelerating decision-making. Whew. Did you digest all of that? That was a lot of acronyms. Thermal data and analytics company Hydrosat has acquired Netherlands-based IrriWatch for an undisclosed amount. IrriWatch provides farmers in 62 countries with daily climate, crop, soil, and irrigation updates, while Hydrosat focuses on using satellite data to monitor climate control. Hydrosat CEO Pieter Fossel told Space News that, with the IrriWatch platform, Hydrosat is able to make on-the-ground impacts around climate metrics for the first time. And continuing with the agriculture theme, and ESA has launched a project aimed at demonstrating how artificial intelligence can use satellite data to help certify organic cotton farms in India to prevent fraud. German technology firm Marple uses imagery from ESA satellites to detect cotton fields and automatically classify them by their cultivation method, a capability they demonstrated with ESA two years ago in Uzbekistan. Marple says their software distinguishes between organic and conventional cotton with 98% accuracy. The project will roll out across India in partnership with Global Organic Textile Standards, or GOTS, a nonprofit organization behind voluntary global standards for the industry. The U.K. Space Agency is providing over 6.5 million U.S. dollars in funding for a new project to research methane emissions. The project will see satellite applications catapult in GHGSat partner to provide satellite data on global methane emissions for research and development purposes in the United Kingdom. The emissions data set aims to allow U.K. researchers and companies to unlock new applications for climate impact. That concludes our briefing for today. Don't forget to check out the stories we featured and more in the "Selected Reading" section on our website. We've added a few interviews and op-eds that we think you'll enjoy. Visit space.n2k.com for more. And hey, T-Minus crew. If your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, T-Minus can help. We'd like to hear from you. Just send us an email at email@example.com, or send us a note through our website, so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.
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Our conversation today is with Dennis Burnett, General Counsel at HawkEye 360, an American geospatial analytics company. Our team is really interested in how HawkEye 360 is able to operate internationally and stay ITAR-compliant. ITAR, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, is a U.S. regulatory policy to restrict and control the export of defense and military-related technologies to safeguard U.S. national security and further U.S. foreign policy objectives. So I started off by asking the difficult question. How does HawkEye 360 have a commercial solution that also works internationally, given ITAR restrictions?
>> Dennis Burnett: Yeah. That's a -- actually a really good question. And ITAR has been a problem for us, as well as for other space companies in general, not just for us. We -- we pose a new set of problems for them because it's a new technology. And new technology has always caused a problem for the -- for the arms export control regime in the United States because there are a lot of things that are done first in the military sector and the intelligence sector because they're expensive. And first, they are of critical importance to the -- to the security of the United States. And we have an advantage because our government spends a lot of money in developing these kinds of systems. But eventually, you know, all technology evolves. And technology is -- you never can contain it. You can always restrict it -- the dissemination of knowledge -- but you can't control it, right? Eventually, it wanders out. And in this case, we've got commercial technologies that get developed that can do things that formerly only could be done with really expensive, exquisite systems. Sometimes not completely the same, different, but similar enough that it causes some -- some real policy headaches for the U.S. government. And not only the U.S. government, but allied governments -- governments everywhere. Even -- even our enemies have the same problem, right? They have a different way of controlling it than we do, but, you know, that is -- is it in a -- in a nutshell. And what we do is, we gather RF energy from space in satellites that are orbiting in low Earth orbits -- about 500 to 600 kilometers in altitude. And we gather that energy. These are very small satellites using commercial components. They're not very expensive. Now, to you and I, you know, having a million-dollar satellite is an expensive thing. But when you compare it to what, you know, traditional communication satellites cost and national security satellites, you're -- you know, they're more than 100 times as much money. But they also perform -- I won't say 100 times better, but a lot better in many respects because they're designed to do different things. So we -- we launch these, using all of the technical innovations that have come about in the last 30 years on small components, cheaper components, and the availability of launch services that weren't around when I started practicing law 50 years ago. You know, there was only one launch provider in the United States, and that was -- that was NASA, and the Air Force, and DOD, and Russia. Those are the two countries that could do it. And that's not the case anymore. We've got private commercial ventures that can launch small satellites for relatively inexpensive launch prices. And we can put these small satellites up, and we've got currently 21 satellites in orbit. And we have plans to launches, probably by the end of 2024, we'll probably have 30 to 35 satellites in orbit.
>> Maria Varmazis: Just going back on ITAR again because I'm really fascinated by when a company goes through the process of getting ITAR compliance, what's the lesson that maybe somebody could take away from this if they're trying to make a similar move?
>> Dennis Burnett: Well, yeah. That -- it is a -- it's a difficult process, and there are only a handful of people that really know how to work it. Most of them are already in industries. So when you're talking about startups out there, one of the big struggles they have is, well, is what we are doing controlled under the ITAR or not? Are our products ITAR-controlled or not? Are they controlled by the -- under the -- the EAR or the ITAR? And EAR means Export Administration Regulations, which are part of the Department of Commerce, and ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which are administered by the Department of State. And as you can just tell by the difference in the -- in the words, they -- they really -- the ITAR is intended to cover items that are of a critical military or intelligence advantage to the United States. This is to protect our troops, protect our personnel, to protect our interests. Right? And over the years, that's -- it's easy to do when you say, okay, that's a cannon or a tank or an F-16 or an artillery piece. Those are easy to identify as articles that should be controlled as critical to an advantage of the United States. But when you get into these new things like software, in particular, and new applications in space, becomes more difficult because the tradition has been, since World War II, that everything to do with space was done by the military with the exception of what happened at NASA. And getting it out of that mindset that everything in the space domain is -- should be under the ITAR has been very difficult for the government to accept. And so when you have a new company, what do they do? A lot of them make big mistakes, right? You're going to hire somebody like me who's been doing this for I -- you know, I started doing this in 1978, about. Lawyers like me are -- are expensive. All right? [laughter] I can tell you that lawyers and law firms are a lot more expensive than I am. [laughter] I'm an internal lawyer, so --
>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah.
>> Dennis Burnett: But -- but --
>> Maria Varmazis: It's more expensive to not have one, though. [laughter] [inaudible]
>> Dennis Burnett: See, that's the problem is that they don't realize that they need that expertise. And if they don't get it, they don't know what they're getting into, quite frankly. So it's -- it is a very dangerous area for startups, quite frankly.
>> Maria Varmazis: I'm very curious about sort of lessons that we might be able to impart aside from you should have good counsel on your side that can advise you through this process. But is there anything else that we can impart to companies that -- they're trying to figure out how they can also work with allied com -- countries, and they may see ITAR as a barrier that makes things too expensive or makes things too difficult for them to compete on an international stage.
>> Dennis Burnett: Well, I teach an ITAR control course in -- in the law school at the University of Nebraska for their LLM students in space -- space law and cyber law. And one of the things I try and impart to them is the first thing they need to do if they go to work for a company that's got these kinds of issues is they need to figure out what of their products are controlled and what jurisdiction are they under. Are they under the ITAR, or are they under the EAR? Are they doing defense services? Are they -- are they performing broker services for someone that is controlled under the ITAR as well. So that's like the first thing they need to figure out. And I can tell you from dealing with other companies over the years, we had an acquisition of a small company once and went out and doing our due diligence. And I said, well, what is this? And he said, well, it's a little ICE [phonetic] electronic component that goes in a missile. I said, and you're selling it as a commercial item? Well, yes. I said, no. [laughter] So he had no idea. You need to go take care of this before we can pay you to take over your company. It's -- this is a problem that has to be solved. That -- that's kind of typical. And the reaction to my -- of my client at the time, who is a foreign company -- who was buying this company -- was, we're not buying your problems. Right? And so the U.S. company needs to take care of those things. And it doesn't matter if the acq -- the company that's acquiring them as a U.S. company or a foreign company. Doesn't matter. A company that's being acquired needs to take care of that. And, you know, he was at risk the whole time until he got it solved.
>> Maria Varmazis: So we've been talking about barriers that ITAR might present. What about opportunities? Is there anything -- is there an advantage there? Is there an opportunity that somebody could use to -- to their advantage here?
>> Dennis Burnett: Yes, there is. And that is -- look, if the -- if the United States government is buying these as, you know, munitions or as weapons, and they're governed under the ITAR, then you've got two things going for you. Number one, the U.S. government has said it's good enough for us, and we only have the best stuff, right? And so automatically, when you go to the international market, they're going to want it, right? They're going to want what the U.S. government is buying. And so that ITAR is not a problem if those are the kinds of things you're going to be covered by anyway. So obviously, then you want the U.S. government, of course, to support you in that effort. Then it'll be an issue of, well, is this in the interest of the United States government or not? All right. Are you selling to an ally? Are you selling to someone who's friendly, that's not an ally? Selling to somebody who's neutral -- who may be an enemy in the future? I mean, all those things come into -- to play. But if you want to -- if you want to sell to people that are friendly and allies, then having that approved as something that the U.S. government buys can be a real advantage.
>> Maria Varmazis: I'm still not sure I understand how they got around that one. I just danced the do-si-do with a space lawyer.
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We'll be right back. And welcome back. If you've ever taken a photograph with a flash or in a very bright light, did you notice how bright light reflecting off of a surface, say, someone's face who is very close to the camera, causes the rest of the photograph to be very dark? A little photography 101 there. The bright light in the photo throws off the exposure, and you get some extremely bright spots that are all blown out, like a face reflecting the camera flash, and then the rest of the photo is too dark to see much, and well, the photo ends up being no good. And that's kind of like what light reflecting off of satellites in low Earth orbit can do to images captured by ground-based telescopes. Those satellites, as small and as far as they are to us, are basically right up against the glass when we're talking about the scale of distance in cosmic observation. The sunlight reflecting off of the satellites can blow out the images captured. And given the long exposure times to capture stellar images, that reflected light from the satellites leaves long light trails across the images, which also obfuscate any stellar objects behind them that the astronomers are trying to see. All that hard work and in time invested only to get blown out by a streaking satellite photobomb. It might sound funny, but it's actually a really serious issue for observers here on Earth without a great resolution just yet. But there is a spot -- or I guess I should say streak -- of good news on this front, at least for Hubble. As the Hubble's orbit degrades, many satellites are in orbit above it. And they've got the potential to disrupt Hubble imagery. But the Space Telescope Science Institute or STSCI says, actually, it's not really a big deal for them, even though 10% of its exposures have satellite trails in them. So that's thanks to some great work by the astronomers at STSCI as they're using an improved tool that's more than 10 times more sensitive than what they'd been previously using to better detect and clean up contamination, like satellite trails, and scratch marks that cosmic rays make on Hubble images, which STSCI says are actually a bigger deal to them than satellite trails. In any case, the final images that science teams publish from telescopes like Hubble are assembled from multiple exposures after all, and in the context of the huge, multi-thousand-pixel images, cosmic ray scratches and satellite trails, while annoying at least for Hubble imagery, are actually really thin and small. So by better detecting and removing the trails in individual images before assembling them into the big, final picture, astronomers can combine data from previous exposures and, well, kind of like the satellites were never there. Eat your heart out, Photoshop.
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And that's it for T-Minus for June 8th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Tré Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
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