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Big brother enters the space race.

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 more.





The US Space Force launch procurement office assigned an additional 12 missions to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance under the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract. The Government Accountability Office finds red flags in Space Force procurements. Reports suggest that Cuba is considering allowing China to establish a facility on the island that is capable of conducting electronic surveillance on the US, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Elizabeth Kennick, President of Teachers in Space, on the mission of Teachers in Space and recent success stories.

You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter or LinkedIn and read more about Teachers in Space on their website

Selected Reading

A Space Force dozen: SpaceX, ULA awarded contracts to launch 12 new satellites- Breaking Defense

Report to Congressional Committees- GAO

Cuba to Host Secret Chinese Spy Base Focusing on U.S.- Wall Street Journal

China’s first stackable satellite reaches orbit on solid rocket launch- SpaceNews

Nelco invests in router maker to improve Indian satcoms network- SpaceNews

SES Space & Defense to Provide Satellite Connectivity to AWS’ Modular Data Center- Via Satellite

Planet stock drops after satellite imagery and data venture lowers annual revenue guidance- CNBC

Scientists document how space travel messes with the human brain- Reuters

UKRI confirms major investment in plant and microbial research hub- UKRI

Sidus Space to launch LizzieSat™ via SpaceX- SatNews

Starlink Maritime on board – managing an independent installation- Smart Maritime Network

China's high-altitude observatory detects 'brightest-of-all-time' gamma-ray burst- CGTN

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>> Maria Varmazis: We do love to open with a quote from a famous book, and today feels just right to start with this. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13. Yep. Big brother is watching. It's keeping an eye on your procurement processes internally, and it could be building a surveillance facility in your backyard. Remember, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.

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Today is June 8, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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US Space Force assigns 12 new missions to SpaceX and ULA. The GAO finds red flags in Space Force procurements. Is China making plans to spy from Cuba? And we talked to Elizabeth Kennick, President of Teachers in Space on the mission of the nonprofit group and recent success stories.

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And now for today's Intel briefing. The US Space Force Launch Procurement Office assigned an additional 12 missions to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance under the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract. The 12 missions are projected to start launching in 2025 with three-quarters of the missions launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Contract values for the 12 were not disclosed at the time of the announcement. The Phase 2 contract is a firm fixed price indefinite delivery requirements contract for launch service procurements supporting fiscal year 2022 to 2027 launches. The new procurement announcements come as the Space Force faces additional scrutiny from the Government Accountability Office, or the GAO, in its annual assessment of Pentagon procurements. We're going to go a little deep dive into this 259-page report over the weekend, but here are some highlights in the meantime. The GAO found a few red flags in the Space Force's satellite programs. Specifically, the report warned that the next generation overhead persistent infrared, known as Next Gen OPIR, geostationary missile warning spacecraft, must overcome numerous challenges before its first planned launch. The report states that, Delays in delivery of the payload prototype increased the risk that the integration activities planned for the first GEO will not complete in time for the scheduled first launch in 2025 and also warns that the ground system planned for Next Gen OPIR will not be fully complete in time to support the first Next Gen OPIR satellite launch. Now, Next Gen OPIR is currently produced by Lockheed Martin and purchased by the Space Force and is planned as a three-satellite constellation to be launched between 2025 and 2028. The Space Force is also planning to buy two Next Gen OPIR polar satellites from Northrop Grumman. The GAO flagged the Next Gen OPIR as one of the most expensive medium-level acquisition programs and estimated that the cost to date of developing the geostationary satellites is exceeding 6 billion US dollars. The GAO report also observed mixed progress in cybersecurity planning. While the Pentagon programs they assessed had or planned to have a cybersecurity strategy, they did not consistently report scheduling cybersecurity test events in time to inform key milestones. The GAO warned that, without timely cybersecurity testing, programs are at greater risk of delays if issues are discovered later in development. It's an insightful observation, particularly as the US grapples with cybersecurity in space and threats from China and Russia. Reports are coming in suggesting that Cuba is considering allowing China to establish a facility on the island that is capable of conducting electronic surveillance on the United States. While the story of the US and China spying on each other is not something that's necessarily new and would not come as a surprise to most of us, the location of this Chinese outpost approximately 100 miles from the Florida coast would undoubtedly inflame tension between the two countries. Florida houses many key military installations and would be a strategic target for intelligence attacks. While the Wall Street Journal says that Beijing has already agreed to pay Havana several billion dollars for the electronic eavesdropping facility, other sources say it's not a done deal. And, for its part, the Chinese government denies the allegations entirely. Meanwhile, China has made progress on their homegrown satellite internet constellation to rival SpaceX's Starlink. A Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket took off from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert yesterday, carrying a communications payload. The Longjiang 3 experimental stackable communication satellite was jointly developed by a commercial satellite company and its parent entity, the Harbin Institute of Technology. China is reportedly planning to launch 13,000 satellites into orbit in the coming years to provide satellite internet infrastructure for the country while also positioning itself as a provider of global infrastructure. Whew. And now on to some lighter news for this Friday, and Space News is reporting that Indian satellite communications provider Nelco has invested over 100,000 US dollars in a network equipment startup based in Mumbai. Nelco is part of the Tata Group company and now proud owners of just 9 percent in Piscis Networks. Piscis is a manufacturer of routers designed to make communications infrastructure more efficient. Nelco hopes that the investment will bolster its services amid a growing competitive threat from international players Nelco partnered with Canada's Telesat to conduct the first in-orbit demonstration of Telesat's low Earth orbit satellite last month. India's government has yet to release guidance on foreign investment rules for space companies, which we actually covered in our discussion with Namrata Goswami last month. You can listen in on that chat again at space.n2k.com. SES Space and Defense has announced a new agreement with Amazon Web Services to provide satellite-powered network connectivity to AWS' modular data center that serves the US Department of Defense. AWS plans to use SES satellite connectivity to provide defense customers with access to low latency, cloud-based applications and services securely in denied, disrupted, intermittent, and limited, or DDIL, environments. Stocks in the Earth observation company Planet took a 25 percent tumble after they announced cuts to their annual revenue guidance in first quarter reports. Sales in the satellite imagery and data company are down, but aren't they everywhere? But Planet says that their balance sheet remains strong with 375 million US dollars in cash and equivalents and no debt. This next story is a no-brainer. Space is hard on the human body. I know. I know that's hardly breaking news to end our intel briefing on. But a new study by neurologists at the University of Florida found that prolonged spaceflight has a lasting effect on the human brain. Scientists observed 30 astronauts and found that those who had been in space for more than six months experienced significant expansion of the cerebral ventricles, which are spaces in the middle of the brains that contain cerebral spinal fluid and that it took up to three years for the damage to reverse. The conclusion of this study suggests that astronauts should hold off returning to space for at least that duration between longer space missions. We hope you're paying attention, Peggy Whitson.

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And that concludes our intel briefing for today. 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. Tomorrow we're going to do a deep dive on the Spaceport America Cup, as we're going to be there covering this great event in person. So tomorrow we're going to have an event check-in with T-Minus producer Alice Carruth and an interview with Cliff Olmsted, the President of ESRA, which is the organization that runs the cup. So definitely check it out while you're mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, folding laundry, driving your kids to the game. You don't want to miss it.

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Today we're joined by Elizabeth Kennick, President of the nonprofit educational group Teachers in Space. I started off by asking Liz what is the mission of Teachers in Space.

>> Elizabeth Kennick: Our purpose is to send teachers to space and return them safely to the classroom so that they can embody for their students and their communities the fact that space is now available to everyone. And, in fact, there are so many jobs both in space and even more on Earth supporting the work.

>> Maria Varmazis: So 2022 looked like a pretty busy year. Can you tell me about some of the things that happened last year.

>> Elizabeth Kennick: I guess it was in the end of 2021 that I got a phone call from Erika Wagner, who had been our business development manager at Blue Origin. We had earned a NASA Flight Opportunities grant to prove through flight testing that we had developed standard, affordable classroom equipment for building spaceflight experiments, which we had been flying since 2015. We wanted to prove that a two-year version of this could integrate to the New Shepard suborbital vehicle. We built a USB connection so that we wouldn't have to deal with batteries, plugged the experiment in flight, get it back the same day, pull the data chip, email the data to the teacher who worked with his students to get it into a chart and got it back to us the same afternoon. So I was talking to Erika and saying we wrote a proposal for a bigger grant from NASA to expand our program, and we didn't get funded. And she said, Well, tell me more. What would you have done? And I told her all about it. And she turns to the head of the Club for the Future, who was on the call with her, said, What do you think? She said, I don't know. Would a million do?

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, my God.

>> Elizabeth Kennick: Yeah. Right? I fell off my chair. And that's -- that's when we found out that Club for the Future had decided to fund 19 education nonprofits. So what it enabled us to do was we did week-long workshops for teachers; hands-on work with Arduinos, sensors, circuitry, programming, troubleshooting, collecting the data, analyzing the data, working with the data in spreadsheets, charting the data. We did a balloon mission in each location and got the data back. So, you know, the teachers came back ready to go into their classrooms and work with their students to do the same thing. So the second half of each of these contracts, a year-long school year support program, which is still ongoing where we provide support to the teachers as they're working with their students. They start with a scientific question. What's your area of research? What do you want to know? How can you find a testable question that could be the foundation for your experiment? So they have to submit a proposal. Then they have to come up with a logical design. Then they have to come up with a physical design, including the circuitry. And we have to be able to build it based on their design. Then there's testing. And then comes the flight, that students and their teachers are completing the final builds of their experiments. And we are now actively recruiting additional teachers who just started the online version of our programs so the individual teachers can go ahead and get started with the Arduino lessons. So we anticipate being able to keep the suborbital flights going through next year. We also have an orbital version. We have launched that twice with Firefly, which is a fairly new rocket company. Now we've got a commercial flight with Firefly coming up. We got the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative funding for that. And that is scheduled to launch this summer, that satellite should stay up for five years. And we have lessons on our website for how to interact with it. We have taught the teachers in our workshops how to receive the signal. If you have an amateur radio, you can even communicate with it and ask for data from it. Then Firefly said there will be a lunar launch in 2025. So we've completed that request for information, and we're waiting to see what happens next on that.

>> Maria Varmazis: So two questions come to mind. The age range of the students. And then my second question was also what kind of experiments are they running? What kind of data are they trying to get?

>> Elizabeth Kennick: The students are mostly middle school and high school. There's a lot of interest in 10th and 11th grades because what we have found is that 11th graders, in particular, when they're applying to colleges and can include in their essays photos and stories about this is my experiment, this is what I was trying to do, here are the results I got, they're getting the interviews. They're getting accepted. And, in some cases, it's been long enough that they have finished STEM studies in college and gone on to medical school or some other advanced science degrees.

>> Maria Varmazis: How amazing and gratifying to see that. I love hearing that these experiments sort of triggered a love of the scientific method and seeing how engineering works hands-on. Any other stories that maybe come to mind? 2222012 was the first summer that I was responsible for the workshops. And one of the teachers said to me, Did you know about the Student Space Flight Experiments Program, SSEP, gets sent to the International Space Station; and the students at the school will do the same procedures with their ground version as the astronauts do with the experiment in space. So we worked out a deal with SSEP that we would have the teachers from our program go back and work with their students and submit their proposal. Their coach had just died of ALS. And they went to the ALS Foundation and said, We have this chance we could fly and experiment in space, and we would love to have it pertained to ALS in some way. And what they learned was that a question was about the way that a enzyme does or does not break down a protein and that that's a key in solving the disease. So their testable question was, will this breakdown of the protein behave differently in microgravity, in space, than it does on Earth? And, you know, they found a percent differential. It was a successful experiment. There was a significant difference in the way it worked.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, my goodness.

>> Elizabeth Kennick: Yeah. So that was huge. They got so much attention for that experiment that there were local PBS specials about it. There was a reporter who wrote about it, and she eventually published a book. And all 17 of those students went on to pursue these STEM degrees in college, and two of them went on to medical school.

>> Maria Varmazis: Wow. That just speaks to how important programs like yours are and how much they can be a force multiplier for getting people to understand the impact that these kinds of careers can have and how rewarding they can be and make such a difference in people's lives. I wanted to give you sort of the floor, if there's anything that we didn't touch on, maybe how people can find out or get involved in the program, maybe if they are a teacher or they want to tell an educator about it.

>> Elizabeth Kennick: Yeah. So our website is pretty easy to remember. It's tis for Teachers in Space, tis.org. And that's where you can find information about the workshops we have done in case you're interested in getting something similar in your location. We have taken these workshops as whole-week programs to places that can accommodate up to 30 teachers, and then the online lessons just went into beta testing. So, if you want to start to work with them, you can write to us on our website. You will see how to contact us or just write to info@tis.org. And we will let you know whether there's room for you to join that beta testing or whether -- just hang in there, and we'll let you know because we're moving rapidly toward making it publicly available.

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We'll be right back. And welcome back, and happy Friday. Now, if you're a sports fan or have any passing familiarity with recent slang, you're not going to be flummoxed when you see emojis of a goat being spammed in replies in response to a great achievement, as goat stands for greatest of all time. You're welcome. And in astronomy circles, perhaps soon we'll see group texts and tweet replies filled with emojis of boats in response to other news, as in this case, boat stands for brightest of all time, the nickname for a gamma ray bursts named GRB 221009A. Last October, astronomers actually spotted the boat, the brightest gamma ray burst ever seen, which was more than ten times bigger than any gamma ray burst previously observed and the largest known explosion since the Big Bang. So that's not a small deal. Gamma ray bursts, or GRBs, are already the goat when it comes to explosions in the Universe. As your average GRB blast in seconds, the amount of energy that our Sun will output in its entire 10 billion year lifetime. Wow. And now further study has revealed new deets about the boat. According to space.com, it appears that the reason that the boat is the goat -- I'm sorry -- is because it has a unique jet structure that was pulling in a lot of stellar material with it, as in way, way more than you'd expect. The Department of Physics at the University of Bath scientist Hendrik Van Eerten was coauthor of a study on the boat and said this: GRB jets need to go through the collapsing star in which they're formed. What we think made the difference in this case was the amount of mixing that happened between the stellar material and the jet, such that shock-heated gas kept appearing in our line of sight all the way up to the point that any characteristic jet signature would have been lost in the overall emission from the afterglow. And George Washington University researcher and study lead author Brendan O'Connor said this: The boat represents a massive step forward in our understanding of gamma ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme explosions do not obey the standard physics assumed for the garden variety gamma ray burst. Garden variety gamma ray bursts. The boat, he added, might be the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone of long GRBs, forcing us to revise our standard theories of how relativistic outflows are formed in collapsing massive stars. Always more work to be done, and it's endlessly fascinating how the universe is so full of surprises and scientific delight. So kudos to everyone involved in this research.

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And that's it for T-Minus for June 9, 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 this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in our show notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector, from the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies. N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment: your people. We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter. Learn more at n2k.com. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tré Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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