Space Safety Coalition’s best practices. The White House looking at LEO. Kenya’s first satellite heading to orbit. US Navy makes strides in space....
SpaceX goes coast to coast.
SpaceX to launch from both US coasts in one day. US Space Force GPS ground system overhaul delayed. Could NOAA become an independent agency? And more.
SpaceX to launch from both US coasts in one day. US Space Force GPS ground system overhaul delayed. US House Republicans have proposed a bill to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration an independent agency. Capella Space has been awarded a 5-year blanket purchase agreement with NASA‘s Earth Science Division, and more.
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Our guest for today’s episode is Aaron Myrick, Project Leader at The Aerospace Corporation. Aaron worked on the Moonlighter - the satellite hacking sandbox, now on orbit.
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>> Maria Varmazis: Two launches. Two coasts. Same day. A friendly reminder. While we may be getting used to hearing things like this, it is absolutely encouraged to take a step back and geek out over how cool it all is. It's amazing to think that two Space X launches bringing dozens of satellites to low Earth orbit in just 24 hours is also really just another day in this new space era.
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Today is Monday, June 12, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus.
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Why have one launch when you can have two? ISS solar upgrade complete. Budget constraints causing timeline woes. Try to act surprised. NOAA under commerce no more. And my interview with Aaron Myrick of the Aerospace Corporation on Moonlighter which is the first ever on orbit test bed for satellite hacking and just launched last week. Stay with us for that and more.
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Here are your items for today's intel briefing. Today June 12th we have two Space X launches on tap, one on the U.S east coast and another on the U.S west coast. As of the time of this recording, the first one already launched from Florida early this morning. 53 Starlink satellites aboard a Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, and the first stage booster has already made its safe return back to a shortfall of gravitas done ship. Later today a little after 2 PM Pacific Time from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California another Falcon 9 is due to launch. This one will be a ride share mission, the Transporter 8, with 72 payloads aboard, most of which are headed to some synchronous orbit. We'll take a closer look at what's aboard Transporter 8 after it launches, fingers crossed, in tomorrow's show. And we chatted about this a little bit with our guest Liam Kennedy in last week's show. On Friday the new iROSA solar arrays for the International Space Station have been successfully installed and deployed thanks to two NASA astronaut crew, Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg. The iROSA or roll out solar arrays are an upgrade over the previous arrays. And when they're all up and running, they're going to provide a 30% boost in solar power generated over the old solar panels. And while this was Astronaut Hoburg's first EVA, otherwise known as a space walk, this was Bowen's ninth. He has now spent over 60 hours out in space. Wow. On our Friday show we discussed the government accountability office report on Pentagon procurements. It's a hefty report that we've been working our way through. Makes for thrilling weekend reading. And another take away from the paper was delays to the U.S space force GPS ground system overhaul. The report suggests that although the USSF expects Raytheon Technologies to produce the needed equipment by end of the year, it will push the initial capability date to at least spring 2024. Increments two and three of the next generation operational control system known as OCX were due to be delivered in January, but technical discoveries during testing delayed the effort. Raytheon has purportedly incurred 123 million U.S dollars in additional costs as a result of the delays. The program also faces further delays due to budget constraints as in fiscal 2023. Congress cut $75 million from OCX that was meant to be used to pay for more contractor support for blocks one and two. Space Force's space systems command told C4ISRNET that they are awaiting approval of the new schedule. And it seems that delays are also plaguing our friends in the space industry across the pond as BAE Systems' planned launch of its first multi-sensory satellite cluster into low Earth orbit has slipped to 2025. Known as Azalea, the group of satellites will use a range of sensors to collect visual, radar, and radio frequency data which will then be analyzed by on board machine learning on edge processors to deliver the resulting intelligence anywhere in the world while still in orbit. The program supports the U.K government's defense space strategy which named Earth observation as a priority area to help protect and defend U.K interests. Back to the U.S now, and house republicans have proposed a bill to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration an independent agency. The NOAA Organic Act is recommending to remove NOAA from the commerce department's umbrella with an aim to reduce political oversight. The bill would preserve the National Weather Service within NOAA, but leave the Office of Space Commerce within the larger department. Three former NOAA administrators have endorsed the proposal, and the idea behind all this is to avoid another Sharpiegate incident. And if you don't know what I'm referring to, then we suggest a quick internet search for your entertainment. We had HawkEye 360's head counsel on the show last Thursday and we're pleased to report that the company's Cluster 7 satellites have begun operation, less than 2 months after launching into orbit no less. According to HawkEye 360's press release, the latest satellite trio achieved initial operating capacity in record time after successfully launching into orbit on April 15th. The company's rapidly growing constellation can collect data up to 24 times per day, as often as once every hour, over a region of interest. HawkEye 360 operates a constellation of 21 satellites that can detect, characterize, and geolocate radio frequency signals from a broad range of emitters used for communication, navigation, and security. And continuing with our congratulatory theme, Capella Space has announced that they have been awarded a five year blanket purchase agreement with NASA's earth science division. The agreement will facilitate fixed price call off contracts valued up to $7 million per call effective for 5 years from the date of the agreement. As part of the sole source contract, the SAR or synthetic aperture radar imagery provider will allow NASA access to commercial SAR image products ranging from 0.5 to 1.2 meter ground resolution. NASA's Earth science division says the imagery will provide additional perspective for scientific research of Earth's interconnected systems and enhance the space agency's existing data sets. You know, it's difficult for many people to grasp how much we rely on space in our everyday lives. My favorite is when we get asked why we pay so much attention to space when there's so many problems here on Earth. I get that one a lot. At T-Minus we do love an opportunity to explain to skeptics why space is so important, especially for Earth observation. NASA and the German Research Center for Geosciences released data from the GRACE-FO satellite, the gravity recovery and climate experiment follow on, that shows water gains in California from this past winter. Data collected by the satellite shows that between October 2022 and March 2023 the massive storms that went through provided enough water to raise the amount of water within the state's central valley region by 20 inches. That's about twice as much as the average winter water gain since satellite based water storage measurements began in 2002 with the first GRACE mission. That is why space matters. And as much as I would love to end every intel briefing with happy news, I'm sorry to say I've got to end today's intel briefing with some sadder news that reflects our current economic concerns. Colorado based space companies Ursa Major and Orbit Fab both conducted layoffs last week as funding blows continue across the industry. You can read more about that and any of the other headlines that we've covered today in the selected reading on our website, space.n2k.com. And that concludes our intel briefing for this Monday. Coming up next is my conversation with Aaron Myrick of the Aerospace Corporation about Moonlighter, the satellite packing sandbox now on orbit. And, hey, T-Minus crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence round up, and it's called Signals and Space. So if you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, 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 Signal and Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.
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Now hacking a satellite is not something we would normally encourage anyone to try, but in this case we do heartily. As of last week, there is a satellite up on orbit built exactly for this purpose with a goal of being a teaching tool for space organizations and security practitioners to better secure space systems. Its name is Moonlighter and let's hear now from the best person to tell us why Moonlighter was made and why it's important.
>> Aaron Myrick: Hi. I'm Aaron Myrick from the Aerospace Corporation. I'm a senior project engineer and the lead of Moonlighter.
>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you, Aaron, for joining me. I'm so excited to talk to you about Moonlighter. Being a former cybersecurity person who's now moved into the space world, this is like the combination of all things that I really love. So for our listeners who aren't familiar with Moonlighter, could you give me sort of the pitch of what it is?
>> Aaron Myrick: Yeah. So Moonlighter started out of this project called Hack-A-Sat and Hack-A-Sat is a joint effort between Space Systems Command and the Air Force Research Lab to engage with the hacker community. A few years back one of the leads over at the Department of the Air Force went to DEF CON and saw that there was all these interesting people at this conference. It's a hacker conference that 30,000 people go to every year in Vegas. And there's all these interesting people and people working on very interesting problems. And what he thought was, "Hey, it'd be great if we could bring the space community into this sort of environment." Because space has always been sort of closed off from the rest of the world. So we wanted to open it up to the public and engage the hacker community. And so Hack-A-Sat was started and we've done several iterations of it, but one of the things that we really wanted to do in Hack-A-Sat is to have a live vehicle to do this cyber competition. Hack-A-Sat, for those that aren't aware, is a cyber competition that is hosted for the public. There's two stages that we've done every year for the past three years. This is our fourth year. So the first stage is the qualification round where we have people that log in from around the globe and -- and participate in this Jeopardy style hacking competition. So they're doing things like reverse engineering binaries. They're doing space math. They're doing some RF analysis. And these teams come together from both the space world and the cyber world. Then we take the top teams from that and we go to a final event challenge. Past few years have been done on these things that we call flat sats which are basically engineering models of vehicles, components, subsystems. Last year we did everything fully digital and all of our teams had a digital twin of a vehicle that was in the same game universe and they were competing and doing these challenges for and against each other. And so this year we're really stepping up the game and saying, "Okay. We've done it on digital twins. We've done it on flat sats. Now let's do it on a live vehicle." Because there's only so much you can do in a simulation environment. And it tends to be very expensive. The more things you try to do in a simulation environment, the more expensive it gets, the more complicated things get. And when you move things into a real world environment you're taking things out of the lab and moving it into the real world. That's where we wanted to go with Moonlighter. And so Hack-A-Sat is going to be the first exercise, like a cyber exercise, for Moonlighter. And we do intend on having follow on activities with Moonlighter afterwards, after Hack-A-Sat, but Hack-A-Sat will be the first one.
>> Maria Varmazis: So if all goes well, if it launches as expected, we're going to have -- people will have a chance to actually work on it at this year's DEF CON. That's incredible. That's such an awesome sandboxing opportunity. I can't even wrap my head around how cool that is. What are you hoping that folks will be able to learn through the actual hands on? I mean for something in space it's maybe not the exact right term, but what are you hoping folks will learn from this elevated experience with Moonlighter?
>> Aaron Myrick: So one of the things that we really were trying to drive home with this is that -- it's to bring the cyber community and the space community a little bit closer together. So hackers kind of do their own thing a little bit differently, and the space community's been pretty closed off. So part of this was an education of the public on how we build space systems and how this cyber community, how the hacker community, how the security researcher community, can build out their own test beds and do their own research because what we're seeing in industry is that these boutique softwares and hardwares that have been built for space systems are not as boutique anymore. We see a lot more of the automotive components, a lot more of the automotive software that has been developed, moving into our space platforms. And so it's a different environment because you're not connected to satellite in the same way that you'd be connected to a car or a cell tower. Most of our vehicles spend their time out of contact with the mission operations center. So it's a very different way of thinking about the security problem. We're trying to get people smart about it and try to educate ourselves and kind of understand each other. And that's one of the big things we're trying to get out of Hack-A-Sat and Moonlighter.
>> Maria Varmazis: This is a very basic question. Is Moonlighter, by any chance, like is it purposefully vulnerable or are there things built in there for people to discover? Or is this essentially as hardened as it can be and we're hoping that people can try to sort of throw themselves at it, for lack of a better term?
>> Aaron Myrick: Yeah. So it's purposefully vulnerable in some ways. So the -- we have what we call a cyber payload on there. So that is the true sandbox of where we're doing these cyber activities. And the boundary of that is where we've tried to build in protections for the vehicle. So we have the ability to shut off that cyber payload and reprogram it from alternate means that we wouldn't normally build in when we're designing a vehicle. So in some ways it's we build things that are purposefully vulnerable so that we have the ability to test out what happens when things are vulnerable and how do we recover our systems. But in another sense we have built walls around that such that we can recover the vehicle and so it's not a one off activity.
>> Maria Varmazis: And I know that Moonlighter is going to launch soon. Given that, you know, that's a huge milestone, what's next after that? What -- after DEF CON happens this year, what's the long term plan?
>> Aaron Myrick: Yeah. So we're planning events with other industry and government people to test out different cyber technologies, different tactics, techniques, and procedures that would happen in cyber operations. So I like to think about cyber in a couple different ways. So you have your cyber compliance. It's all the prep work, all the, you know, assessments that have to be done. And then there's cyber operations which is, okay, now you've detected. So let's say you detect something or maybe you haven't detected something and things go a little bit sideways. Now what do you do? How do you recover your system? How do you ensure that your system is providing the service that you need it to provide with the level of confidentiality, availability, integrity that you desire? And so trying out different tactics, techniques, and procedures in a cyber operations world is something that has been challenging for the space community to do. And so we're trying to explore that as well.
>> Maria Varmazis: Talking about TTPs, for a moment it reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague of yours, Brandon Bailey, about the SPARTA framework. And I'm wondering are any of the learnings from Moonlighter going to maybe play into that? Are there any plans around that? Or has SPARTA come into play at all here?
>> Aaron Myrick: Yeah. So I know -- I know Brandon Bailey very well. And we've talked a lot. So he took last year's competition and mapped it out against SPARTA. I'm not sure if he's released that publicly or not, but he's at least done that and I've seen it. We do talk, and he's mapped out some of the things, some SPARTA. And so some of what we're doing feeds into that. Some of what he's doing there we take and we're like, "Hey, I wonder what this would look like if we were to actually play out this scenario."
>> Maria Varmazis: Anything else about Moonlighter that you want to make sure you mention to the audience? Maybe where folks can learn more or if they're going to be at DEF CON what they need to do to maybe get involved.
>> Aaron Myrick: Yeah. So we'll be at DEF CON near the Aerospace Village. So we have a great partnership with them. So we'll have a booth there. Our five teams have already been chosen for finals, but we do have all the information from past Hack-A-Sat events online at hackasat.com. We even have GIT repos of all the old qualifying challenges, all the old finals challenges. Our competitors have to do write ups if they want to receive their prize package so we are able to put all that online as well. So it's a great resource for learning about all this stuff.
>> Maria Varmazis: Aaron, I really appreciate you walking us through all of this, and congratulations on all the work you've done on Moonlighter so far. And may it continue to be a great success.
>> Aaron Myrick: Great. Thank you very much.
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>> Maria Varmazis: And we'll be right back. And welcome back. Now the ocean is known for being a graveyard for vessels that fail to navigate the choppy waters. We all grew up with tales of famous ship wrecks, I'm sure, like the Mary Rose and the Titanic or one of my favorites, the Whydah pirate ship. But did you know that the ocean is becoming increasingly known for its collection of space debris? First there's Point Nemo, a hidden graveyard lurking at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean where space debris has been discarded since the 1970s. Some 260 objects have been landed there by the United States, Russia, Japan, and European nations. And it will become the resting place for the ISS when it's decommissioned in 2030. and just last year a History Channel documentary team found a 20 foot piece of the Challenger space shuttle off the coast of Florida some 37 years after the tragic explosion. And most recently a fisherman in the Philippines discovered parts of a Chinese rocket recovered in Morong, Bataan. The parts reportedly resemble a portion of the Chinese automated cargo spacecraft Tianzhou. Now this is the third recovery of Chinese spacecraft parts by Filipino fishermen in the last six months. Yeah. I didn't know that either. I wonder what they're going to bring home in the next catch. They might need a bigger net.
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And that's it for T-Minus for June 12, 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 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 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 Caruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
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