<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=205228923362421&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

Space, collaborate and listen.

Commerce holds space situational awareness talks with industry. The UN calls for better space governance. China’s developing a new spaceport. And more.





The US Commerce Department to hold meetings with industry on space situational awareness. The United Nations says countries need to improve collaboration on their space activities. Chinese Space News is reporting that construction of a new complex at a spaceport in Hainan Province has started, and more.

Remember to leave us a 5-star rating and review in your favorite podcast app.

Miss an episode? Sign up for our weekly intelligence roundup, Signals and Space. And be sure to follow T-Minus on Twitter and LinkedIn.


T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s episode is Jack Cohen, Program and Mission Manager at Astro Digital. 

You can follow Jack on LinkedIn and find out more about Astro Digital on their website.

Selected Reading

Commerce slates mid-July for next round of space traffic ‘industry engagements’- Breaking Defense

U.N. opens “window of opportunity” to improve space governance- SpaceNews

Construction on a new spaceport begins in S China's Hainan Province- CGTN

BepiColombo braces for third Mercury flyby- ESA

Orbex and Arianespace Look to Collaborate in Launch Sector- Via Satellite

Venus Aerospace Adds Airbus Ventures to Investor Team

Airbus Ventures Invests in Zero-Error Systems Building Semiconductor Solutions for Space- Via Satellite

Texas Space Commission launches; how it could benefit local aerospace businesses- KXAN

Deloitte Report: SpaceTech to Become Table Stakes for Future Business Strategies- PR Newswire

AI-Fueled Satellites Are First-Movers In Launch Of The Space Economy- Forbes

The coming of age of the global space economy- FT

From malware to barf, dealing with the nasty side of space exploration- Are We There Yet- NPR

Audience Survey

We want to hear from you! Please complete our 4 question survey. It’ll help us get better and deliver you the most mission-critical space intel every day.

Want to hear your company in the show?

You too can reach the most influential leaders and operators in the industry. Here’s our media kit. Contact us at space@n2k.com to request more info.

Want to join us for an interview?

Please send your pitch to space-editor@n2k.com and include your name, affiliation, and topic proposal.

T-Minus is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. © 2023 N2K Networks, Inc.

>> Maria Varmazis: "Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. That tension will not go away." That's a quote often attributed to American writer Stewart Brand. And that quote got bandied around a lot in the '90s, especially after the movie Hackers came out. You know the one.

>> Hack the planet! Hack the planet!

>> Shut up and get in the car!

>> Maria Varmazis: Now, information wants to be free was certainly the zeitgeist of the time with the nascent public Internet. Some might argue that has changed now. But still, fast-forward to now and bring that sentiment to space. There is growing agreement that when it comes to space situational awareness, that information needs to be free too.

[ Music ]

Today is June 14, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

[ Music ]

Commerce in talks with industry about space situational awareness. The UN says the time is right for better space governance. China is developing a spaceport. BepiColombo says hi to Mercury for the third time. And my interview with Jack Cohen, program and mission manager at Astro Digital. Stay with us.

[ Music ]

And here's our intel briefing for today. Right now, the Secure World Foundation's Summit for Space Sustainability is underway in New York. And there are some interesting announcements coming from this event. One of them might seem a little wonky, but we think it could have a potentially big impact down the line. The US Commerce Department has said it has two meetings scheduled next month, including one with industry satellite operators, to figure out how to better share spacecraft location data, with the goal of eventually formalizing more effective space traffic coordination. Okay, meetings might not be headline new, but, hey, better coordination and knowledge sharing for what's on orbit and where is direly needed. And it can't be siloed in military, civil, or industry facilities alone. According to Breaking Defense, as the Commerce Department chips away at this growing problem, right now they're trying to sus us out where exactly space situational awareness data is going to come from and how much that data does or doesn't reflect the ground truth, or I guess I should say, orbit truth. But it's a delicate balance for the Commerce Department because, as you might expect, there is a growing private sector market for just this kind of information. The eventual goal is for the Office of Space Commerce to ingest multiple sources of information, aggregate it and release it into their planned traffic coordination system for space without also putting space situational awareness businesses, well, out of business. It's a delicate balance, to be sure. And speaking of keeping an eye on orbit, another bit of news from the Secure World Foundation's event this week, Guy Ryder -- who is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Policy -- said, "We're in a prime moment over the next year or so for countries to improve collaboration on their space activities." Ryder said, in advance of the September 2024 Summit of the Future conference at the United Nations, the organization is looking specifically to address improving space governance, especially regarding peaceful uses of outer space and the growing hazard of space debris. The intervening 15 months until that UN conference is the perfect time to "accelerate space diplomacy and advance the governance issue," says Ryder. Chinese SpaceNews is reporting that construction of a new complex at a spaceport in Hainan Province has started. The new area will be for solid rocket launch missions and is the third part of the spaceport development to be built in Wenchang city. The spaceport site is aiming to be completed in 2024 and is expected to host commercial Chinese space launches in the same year. Now, it's the planet closest to the Sun but it isn't the hottest. As you probably well know, that title is held by Venus. But the small planet of Mercury -- which is just slightly larger than our Moon -- is about to have a brief visit from BepiColombo. The joint mission by the European Space Agency and Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency will be holding its third of six flybys of the egg-shaped planet this weekend. BepiColombo was launched in 2018 on an Aryan-5 rocket and is expected to lose enough energy to be captured into Mercury's orbit in 2025. And speaking of Aryan rockets, Aryan Space has signed a memorandum of understanding with Orbex. The two European launch providers are looking to collaborate on future missions. The agreement aims to increase the joint capabilities and serve the customers of both providers. And we'll bring you more when that MOU becomes a joint mission. Onto some investment use now. And the venture capital company Airbus Ventures has been busy supporting two space startups this week. First, they announced a stake in Singapore-based Zero-Error Systems -- which specializes in semiconductor solutions for space and power management applications. And today, Airbus Ventures announced its support for hypersonic spaceplane manufacturer Venus Aerospace. The announcements did not mention how much the Silicon Valley-based VC put into both companies, but it's certainly interesting to see which companies are considered by them in early seed rounds. Texas governor Greg Abbott has signed a new law establishing the creation of the Texas Space Commission. The commission will oversee $350 million in Texas taxpayer dollars towards the development of the space industry in the Lone Star State. Texas, aside from being home to NASA Space Center in Houston, is also home to many new space startups, including the previously mentioned Venus Aerospace and Firefly Aerospace, along with SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica and spaceports in Van Horn for Blue Origin, Midland, and Houston, with many others under consideration. Texas is the third US state to establish a space commission, and it's going to be managed by a board with nine seats, which will include the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of the House. And continuing with the theme of aerospace investment, Deloitte -- a global audit, consulting, tax and advisory services company -- has released their first of several reports on Tech Futures series. The series of reports aim to assist organizations to identify their role in the space economy through three chapters, and ultimately urge companies to come up with space strategies. The overall summary we got from it is that the aerospace industry is about to grow expeditiously in the coming years and move into new sectors. See, we summarized it in a few words for you. But if you want to get into more details, then we've got a link for you in our Show Notes, space.n2k.com. And if you've not had enough of me for today, you can also listen to my roundup of the week's space news on NPR's Are We There Yet podcast with Brendan Byrne. If the show's not already in your podcast rotation, we've included the link in the Selected Reading section on our website, space.n2k.com, along with links to all of the stories that we've covered today and a few that we didn't have time to as well. That covers it for our intel briefing for today. Coming up next is my conversation with Astro Digital program and mission manager, Jack Cohen. And, hey, T-Minus crew, if you find this podcast useful, could you please do us a favor and share a five-star rating and short review in your favorite podcast app? It'll help other space professionals just like you to find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much, we really appreciate it. Our guest today is Jack Cohen, program and mission manager at Astro Digital. So I start off with asking, what does Astro Digital do?

>> Jack Cohen: So I actually joined Astro Digital right in 2019 when the company had just pivoted from developing the Landmapper constellation to being a bus provider to third-party or external customers. So since then, we've been working with a lot of private industry folks as well as a couple government ones and civil sector ones. And it's been exciting to see that pivot.

>> Maria Varmazis: One of the things that Astro Digital does that specifically you work on is the end-to-end delivery of spacecraft programs. Now, a lot is in that statement. So what does that mean? And this is not a small ask. Can you walk us through what that looks like?

>> Jack Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. And it's definitely not a simple kind of one-item task. Astro Digital definitely does build vertically integrated buses for various different types of payloads. But we kind of adopted this mission-as-a-service, ethos, which is really more of a software-as-a-service mentality. But essentially, you can come to Astro Digital with either an idea or your own payload and we can get that payload to orbit. It almost always starts with a very heavy technical design phase. But what a lot of people don't realize is, in the background of that and almost the same schedule timeline, is the length it takes to get regulatory approval to launch.

>> Maria Varmazis: What does that look like?

>> Jack Cohen: Well, right now, I mean, Astro Digital's primarily in the new space kind of side of the space industry. I think a lot of smaller companies that are not experienced with getting the regulatory approvals from the FCC, NOAA if they're doing some sort of imaging, the FAA depending on whether [inaudible], or any of the other potential regulatory hurdles. So that's something that we have a lot of experience with and we're able to help those that have not had that experience before.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's not a small lift, because a lot of companies do get stuck at that stage is my understanding.

>> Jack Cohen: Yeah. It's unfortunate that we hear about the financial value of it, but there's definitely a regulatory hurdle to it as well. But we've seen a lot more success than issues. And I think the FCC is doing everything that they need to improve on being able to meet the demand that's just skyrocketed over the last couple of years.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well phrased, yes, absolutely. So after the regulatory, or actually I should say during -- because I'm sure that takes quite some time. While that's going on, what else is happening?

>> Jack Cohen: The hardest part about starting a program is just depending on the payload requirements. And when I say "payload," it means whether it's a customer bringing some sort of Earth sensor or an RF payload that has some crazy new requirement that's just never been flown before, all of the bus which provides -- and when I say "bus," I'm talking about the TT&C radios, the high-speed radios, whether it's K-Band or X-Band -- the electrical power system for computer, everything that you need to operate a payload, all those need to be designed and customized to be able to meet the payload requirements. So that's like the first thing that really gets started. It's almost a feasibility study to make sure that our bus or variations of our bus can meet the requirements from a customer.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay, so fast-forwarding a little bit. So after that stage, I'm sure there's a lot of iteration that's going on. I'm drastically oversimplifying what must be incredibly complex.

>> Jack Cohen: So the interesting part of this design process is it is almost standardized across the industry now to go to these various milestones. And you'll see articles in SpaceNews about how X company has reached and closed out all the action items from a critical design review. It's cool, like congratulations, you've gotten to that point. But like it's really just a design effort. Like you still have to build the thing. But a lot goes into these various milestone reviews. Typically, you start off with a preliminary design review. That's kind of the first roadblock or stop to make sure that everything that everyone is designed to is compatible with what the actual mission needs to look like. After that, there's a quite a bit more analysis that goes into this next approach, which is going into the CVR, or critical design review. And at that point, the goal is to depart from the critical design review knowing exactly what the spacecraft looks like, what it's composed of, what it's going to be capable of doing, and what the limitations are and risks are. So that's like the hardest part about the design process is just getting to that milestone. So it is a big achievement, but it's definitely not one that we feel like we need to claim on SpaceNews.

>> Maria Varmazis: One of the many things that Astro Digital does is also working with -- I'm probably not phrasing this correctly, but I know one of the missions that you all launched was on a SpaceX transporter. Working with a supplier like that, for lack of better term, what is that like? What's involved there?

>> Jack Cohen: Yeah. Getting to launch is my personal favorite part, getting to go to Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg. And being in some of these actually really old buildings that SpaceX has leased from the Air Force or Space Force is -- it's humbling, because you get to just see kind of a little bit of history of how we got there. And here's like a small technology company out of Silicon Valley in the same bay that like a national security mission was built. So it's just cool to see that. Launch is unique. Right now, we're primarily launching on the Transporter missions. And a lot of members of the space industry or the new space industry are -- those are the most reliable and cheapest vehicles to launch on. So we've benefited from being on almost every one. I think we missed one or two. But we are on the first Transporter one. Got bumped off of that, unfortunately. But we're on the next one. And we've just spent a fun, iterative process with Falcon 9's.

>> Maria Varmazis: The hardest working rocket there is.

>> Jack Cohen: Yeah.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's a heck of a track record, being on almost every single Transporter launch. That's fantastic. Any learnings, any wisdom, you want to share from that experience? Because that's pretty unique.

>> Jack Cohen: Being very clear, concise, and open with everyone, whether it's your customer, whether it's SpaceX themselves, whether it's your mission integrator that's typically interfacing with SpaceX, it's very rare that a program just goes like so smoothly that there's never anything to talk about. So like almost every mission integration, there's some sort of question, whether it's from a customer side about when does the fairing close, when's the last opportunity to charge batteries, that kind of thing. And then there are questions from SpaceX, like, hey, we have this questionnaire on your environmental test report, can you help with that? So we've learned that, just don't be gray about it, don't be vague, like be clear, concise, say this is exactly what we did. Because at the end of the day, no one is looking to find fault, they're just trying to find a solution to make sure that everyone's getting to orbit safely.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well said. When we're talking about programs or missions that are as complex, multifaceted, as the ones that you work on, my mind boggles a little bit at not just how many moving parts there are but how much adjustment must be made and also how much pressure that must be to work on something like this. So first, anyone else who wants to do what you do, what would you say they need to have to succeed as a person working in something as complicated as what you're doing?

>> Jack Cohen: Well, just having a stress management technique is very helpful. Space is hard, everyone says it. So everyone needs to find a way just to be personally capable of doing it. But I think, really, it's also, I mean, it's an exciting, new industry. So like if you need to reach out for help to someone that might've previously had greater experience working on it, on something that you're working on, reach out. Because it's very rare that people will say absolutely not, I'm not interested in talking about that. So, unfortunately, I mean, the kind of secretive nature of the aerospace industry prevents a lot of people to do that externally. But I think that's improving. I think we're getting a little bit more clear. And I think it's just it's exciting because it's so new. But a lot of times when things start out, they're harder than they need to be.

>> Maria Varmazis: And I want to make sure I also give you the floor, so to speak. If there's anything about Astro Digital or anything that you're working on that you'd like to mention, I want to give you that opportunity.

>> Jack Cohen: So, I mean, Astro Digital and CubeSat, SmallSat industry is so new that we're just starting to scrape the surface of what's possible. So Falcon 9 was a great first step in being able to do these dedicated rideshare machines has been helpful. And all the other launch providers, whether it's Astra or Rocket Lab or any of the other ones that are developing the next rocket, they're going to combine with Starship, and that's going to be the explosion. I mean, it's going to be such a difference between where we were at 20 years ago or 23 years ago, whenever Cal Poly launched their first CubeSat, to now and seeing that the access to space is so possible. I think it'll be looking at how many applications are available for download on an iPhone right now. And that was available as a result of the Apple iPhone. So Starship happens and increases the opportunity for individuals to get to orbit, that will just be the next leap.

>> Maria Varmazis: Jack, thank you so much for walking me through what you do, how you do it. I mean, not an easy task, but I'm glad you're doing it. So thank you, Jack, and I really appreciate your time today.

>> Jack Cohen: Awesome. Thank you, Maria.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: And we'll be right back. Welcome back. And I've got a little casual vexillology for you today. In the United States, we're commemorating Flag Day. It's not a holiday that we get off from work, but it is the anniversary of the day that our flag -- the good old Stars & Stripes -- was officially adopted in 1777. It's changed a little bit since then. We've added quite a few more stars, one for every state, 13 then and 50 now. So we thought we'd do a little space flag trivia for you today. Now, famously, the Apollo 11 crew planted a US flag on the Moon's surface. Though, it wasn't the only one. Recent flybys of the Moon by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the flags from '12, '16, and '17. But Apollo 11's famously photographed flag, couldn't find it. Presumed lost. Now, those were some of the first flags in space, but they have been by no means the last. As more countries have put astronauts into space, inevitably flags make their way to suborbital and orbital space as well. One of my personal favorite flags in space photos was actually courtesy of ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who brought a flag from every country in the world aboard the International Space Station on his second mission there. He did that to mark the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. It's a photo worth looking up. Seeing the normally rather dull-looking experiment-packed ISS filled with an explosion of bright colors representing all the nations of the world, it's quite something to see. And it's not just nation flags that go to space, of course, it's organizations, military branches, and even a few state flags. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our amazing T-Minus show producer, Alice Carruth, has a New Mexico flag in her office that went to space on the first human spaceflight via the VSS Unity from Spaceport America in 2021. I get to see it every time we video chat. It's very cool. And that's it for T-Minus for June 14, 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 the Show Notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Tre 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. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

[ Music ]

Similar posts

Stay in the loop on new releases. 

Subscribe below to receive information about new blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, and product information.