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NASA’s magnificent seven.

NASA picks seven commercial partners to advance space capabilities. Vast picks Impulse for Haven-1. Virgin Galactic to start commercial flights. And more.





NASA selects seven commercial space companies to partner with through its second Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities program. VAST selects Impulse to provide the Haven-1 Space Station propulsion system. Virgin Galactic announces a flight window for its first commercial spaceflight, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dr. George Nield, former Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, Blue Origin Astronaut and Head of the Global Spaceport Alliance.

You can connect with George on LinkedIn and find out more about the Global Spaceport Alliance on their website.

Selected Reading

Seven US Companies Collaborate with NASA to Advance Space Capabilities- NASA

VAST selects Impulse Space for Haven-1 Space Station Propulsion- Vast Space


Luxembourg greenlights new military SATCOM network using SES satellites- Breaking Defense

Eutelsat reversing course with European retail broadband business sale- SpaceNews

Astronaut Chris Hadfield working with King Charles on 'Astra Carta'- CTV News

NASA recognizes James Webb Flight Operations Subsystem team at Raytheon- Military Embedded

Space Command's leader is building out his Colorado HQ even as Congress tries to force the HQ to move to Alabama- NBC

How a Shady Chinese Firm’s Encryption Chips Got Inside the US Navy, NATO, and NASA- Wired

Astrobiology Space Missions Need To Be More Aggressive And Less Risk Averse- Forbes

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>> Maria Varmazis: Yesterday, NASA put out a press release titled, "Seven US companies collaborate with NASA to advance space capabilities." Now, don't let the unassuming title fool you. The press release read a bit like a Who's Who of commercial space. And NASA's collaborative plans with these special seven are really fascinating. We'll tell you all about it.

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Today is June 16, 2023, the 60th anniversary of the flight of the first woman in space. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus. NASA's second cohort for commercial space capabilities collaboration. Vast picks Impulse for Haven-1. Virgin Galactic sets a date for commercial spaceflight. A great charter for the star. And my conversation today is with Dr. Nield, former associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, head of the Global Spaceport Alliance, and Blue Origin astronaut. Stay with us. And now let's take a look at our intel briefing for this Friday. NASA announced the special seven commercial space companies that it's going to work with through its second Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (or CCSC-2). The companies get access to NASA expertise and NASA gets to help with what it's calling the development of a robust low Earth orbit (or LEO) economy. And those special seven companies are: Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Space, SpaceX, Special Aerospace Services, ThinkOrbital, and Vast Space. There's no grant for this. In fact, each of these companies is paying its own way as part of the agreement. Now, since the goal of this CCSC-2 is to develop the LEO economy, and given that the International Space Station's time on orbit will be coming to an end in 2030, as you might expect, many of these announced projects have to do with what's coming after the ISS is gone. Now, the plan has been for a while that many commercial space stations will replace the singular ISS. And certainly, the announced projects reflect that reality. The CCSC-2 will be supporting ongoing work on Northrop Grumman's autonomous Persistent Platform, as well as Vast's crude Haven-1. Interestingly, the announcement also mentioned that as part of NASA's investment in SpaceX, it includes using Starship as not only a ride to low Earth orbit, but also as a space station. Starship in my low Earth orbit? It's more likely than you think. SpaceX and Blue Origin were also both tapped for transportation and cargo services to LEO. And Special Aerospace Services and ThinkOrbital are being engaged, putting it very broadly, for ICM robotics and associated technologies. Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA, said this in the press release: "It's great to see how companies invest their own capital towards innovative commercial space capabilities, and we've seen how these types of partnerships benefit both the private sector and NASA. The companies can leverage NASA's vast knowledge and expertise, and the agency can be a customer for the capabilities included in the agreements in the future. Ultimately, these agreements will foster more competition for services and more providers for innovative space capabilities." Now, this announcement does have a lot jampacked in there, so I encourage you to go take a look at it for yourself. We've linked it in our show notes at space.n2k.com. Mk03:59 And speaking of space habitation company Vast, they've announced that they have selected Impulse to provide the Haven-1 Space Station Propulsion System. The Haven-1 propulsion system, which will be designed and delivered by Impulse Space, will include reaction control system thrusters to augment resident control moment gyros and deorbit thrusters for end-of-life operations. The Saiph thruster is already qualified and will, by the time Haven-1 launches, have been used on multiple LEO missions starting in October 2023. Now, Vast is the first company to announce a launch date of a commercial space station, and its plan to be transported by SpaceX to low Earth orbit in August 2025. Virgin Galactic has released the flight window for the first commercial spaceflight of its service, starting June 27th. The first mission will carry three members of the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy to the edge of space to conduct microgravity experiments. The space flying company says it will then host monthly commercial operations starting in August taking passengers to space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Luxembourg's parliament has approved a program to carveout capacity from SES's 03B mPower medium Earth orbit broadband network for the country and NATO allies, including the United States. Now, SES says the deal is worth $213 million over the next decade. The program is designed not just to improve Luxembourg's military space capabilities but also to deepen defense cooperation with their allies. The US Space Force has budgeted $59 million to acquire SATCOM service from SES's constellation that will eventually amount to 11 satellites in medium Earth orbit (or MEO). French satellite operator Eutelsat says the company is selling its European retail broadband activities for an undisclosed sum to focus on the wholesale market. Eutelsat says it's reached an agreement with an unidentified private operator for the sale of affiliate Bigblu operations and retail activities in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, and Greece. Now changing topics entirely. Now, I would hope that we've all heard of the Magna Carta. You know, the first document put into writing on the principle that the king and his government was not above the law, written back in 1215. But have you heard of the "Astra Carta"? Well, probably not, as it's still in the works. But later this month, expect to hear more news about it, as it's going to be a new space sustainability plan. It's currently being worked on by the UK's King Charles, III, and everybody's favorite space oddity troubadour, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Hadfield says the "Astra Carta" will explore how humans can use space and settle the Moon in a different way than they have settled on Earth. And that he hopes it will be used by decision-makers from across the globe. Can't help but wonder, will it be written in Latin? In any case, we're all super fans of Chris Hadfield here at T-Minus, so we can't wait to see what he's been working on with the King of England. We imagine a knighthood is in the works for this. It will be interesting to see. And speaking of being honored, NASA has recognized Raytheon Technologies with a Group Achievement Award for its James Webb Space Telescope Flight Operations Subsystem Development Team. The NASA Group Achievement Award recognizes the team's achievements and their impact on the success of the Webb mission. The Raytheon designed subsystem went operational on December 25, 2022, during Webb's launch, providing 24-hour a day, seven days a week command and control capabilities. And boy, are we thankful for it. Now, that concludes our briefing for today. You can read more about the stories we've covered in the selected reading section on our website, which is at space.n2k.com. We've included a story by Wired, which does a great job of setting the scene about ongoing concerns in some parts of United States' federal agencies and the military regarding microchips fabricated in China finding their way into the aerospace supply chain. It's a really great story, definitely worth checking out. 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 have Dr. George Nield talking about the future of point-to-point space travel and his personal experience flying to space in Blue Origin's New Shepard. Have a listen while you're mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, folding laundry, doing chores, driving your kids to the game. You don't want to miss it. And one last programming note. Monday here in the United States is Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery. Since it's a holiday, we're taking the day off. We won't be publishing our regular T-Minus Daily, but we will have a special edition dropping in the podcast feed just for you. The special episode kicks off our week of coverage of the Spaceport America Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with an interview with one of the students who will be competing next week, Adrian Kudaka [assumed spelling], who is the lead of the University of London's rocketry team. It's a great start to an exciting week. And we'll be back to our regularly scheduled daily episodes on Tuesday. Our guest today is Dr. George Nield, former associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, Blue Origin astronaut, and head of the Global Spaceport Alliance. I started off by asking about the mission of the alliance.

>> Dr. George Nield: So the Global Spaceport Alliance (or GSA) was established back in 2015. And the intent was to try and develop a network of spaceports all around the world that could work together to enable increased access to space, as well as facilitating continuing growth of the global space economy. And right now, we have 27 different spaceport members from 10 different countries around the world. And it's a really exciting time for the whole spaceport community.

>> Maria Varmazis: And I know something that comes up a lot in space discussions is capacity -- launch capacities, number of spaceports, we're always trying to get more online. What would you like to see happen there? I would love to see lots more spaceports. And the key insight is that it's not just a question of how many launches are going on -- even though we're seeing a tremendous increase in the number of launches every year -- rather, it's based on our assessment that a spaceport is not just a place from which launches take place, but rather they can be focal points and technology hubs that can have a wide variety of different activities, including aerospace manufacturing, scientific research, technology development, education and training, workforce development, and in the not-too-distant future, point-to-point transportation through space. And so what we end up with is the opportunity for communities and states, countries, to be part of this ecosystem that allows them to be involved in the exciting things going on in space today.

>> Maria Varmazis: Picking up on point-to-point transportation. So when do you think we're going to see that really take off, point-to-point transportation? And what do we need to do to get there?

>> Dr. George Nield: It's a great question, and I think it's going to be a lot sooner than many people think. One of the differences is, unlike in the 1970s or 1980s when people might be advocating for governments to spend billions of dollars to develop systems that can replace the space shuttle or be a national airspace plane and so forth, and then, wow, we can do some amazing things with that. Industry has gotten a vision, and they are already off raising funds, testing systems, doing design trades, and starting their manufacturing and ground testing of these kinds of systems. There's a half-dozen companies in the US alone that are focused on doing this. And so government is important and they can make a huge difference, but it's really along the lines of deciding what laws, what policies, what regulations, what funding do they want to invest to allow this kind of activity to take place, as opposed to actually being in charge of developing a system. And there's a tremendous range of different kinds of vehicles that are being looked at. So it's presenting a lot of different opportunities. Winstream [phonetic] certainly is. SpaceX with Starship, that's being designed to colonize Mars and to take NASA astronauts down to the surface of the Moon. Great. But that same vehicle is going to have a capability to take people from one point on the Earth to the opposite side of the planet in just an hour or two. And that is going to be a huge gamechanger not only just in terms of how we travel, but also how we communicate, how we do business. I think it has the potential to really shrink the planet, if you will, in terms of allowing people not only to have face-to-face interaction but to visit family and friends in other parts of the world and to get to know other countries, other people, other societies, other cultures, which is got to be a good thing the way the world is today. So a lot of opportunities there. But SpaceX is not the only one looking at this, there's a number of other companies that have concepts, some vertical takeoff and landing, some horizontal takeoff and landing, with different levels of capability. A number of them are similar in size to a business jet on the order of 20 people or so that could be carried, or the equivalent amount of packages or cargo. But they can fly at Mach 5 or Mach 10, 5 or 10 times the speed of sound and really shrink the time that it takes to go from the US to Australia or Japan or Europe. And I think that's just going to make a tremendous difference. The military is starting to get their arms around this type of capability. They have a program called Rocket Cargo, where they're interacting with SpaceX and Blue Origin and Rocket Lab and some other companies, to try to understand what could this mean and how could such a vehicle be helpful in terms of responding after a natural disaster or some kind of humanitarian crisis or actual or anticipated military actions such that you can immediately move large amounts of cargo or people to the other side of the planet. But I don't think this should be really just a military issue. This has huge potential for civil, commercial, and national security applications. Which is why I would love to see other parts of the government and administration and Congress and departments really starting to think about this and talk about this and having us begin discussions with our allies around the world in terms of how would something like this work. Because the time to start talking about this and to plan this is now, not after you've got a vehicle sitting on the runway ready to go.

>> Maria Varmazis: We know many companies are working on the technological side of this puzzle, so to speak. There's the technology, the materials, the propellant, all those things, those are problems that in time will be solved or are being solved right now. We're talking about a lot of different countries coordinating on something that's -- you know, airspace gets really complicated when you start talking about something like this. I mean, how on earth does that work when you're talking about that kind of international coordination on a somewhat unknown quantity at this point?

>> Dr. George Nield: It's going to be a challenge, and it may turn out to be an even greater challenge than the technical aspects, which is sort of surprising. But certainly, we want to make sure that people know this is not military action, but it's going very high and very fast. And that presents some benefits too, because it might make it easier to coordinate in terms of other traffic if you're well above typical airline transportation. And of course, one big question mark has always been, well, what about sonic booms? Okay, we need to look at that. But if you're flying in a vehicle that is at 150,000 feet, you probably wouldn't even hear that on the ground. So this is not like a Concorde going a little bit faster, this is a completely different way of traveling.

>> Maria Varmazis: I know many people who will be early adopters of this or folks who are really enthusiastic about it. Thinking ahead, as it becomes more proliferated, there are going to be safety questions. There are going to be people who are going to be just nervous about doing point-to-point transportation in suborbital space. So what are your thoughts on that; what you thoughts on proving the safety or making sure that maybe there's a PR campaign around safety on this kind of thing?

>> Dr. George Nield: In the United States today, we handle space transportation very differently than we do aviation. And so whereas we certify aircraft, we license the operations for space transportation. And if you want to fly on top of one of these rockets, then you actually have to be briefed on terms of what are all of the hazards, the risks, what could go wrong -- you could be injured, you could even die. Are you still interested in going on the flight? If so, you need to sign this piece of paper and go. It's called an "informed consent regime," similar to what you go through with a major medical operation. So that's a completely different situation. And although other countries, at least initially, were somewhat skeptical about approach, they wanted to insist, no, this have to be exactly as safe as an airplane before we're going to allow anybody to try it. Interestingly, it turns out that allowing people to experience some risks like this enable us to learn a tremendous amount and accelerates the development process. As long as we're ensuring that the uninvolved public -- the folks who are not riding on the rocket, on the ground -- those folks are kept safe. So public safety is number one, for sure. But recognize for those who are actually going to take part in these spaceflights, at least for now, those are done with some amount of risk that you need to accept. So that presents some interesting challenges and opportunities for things like point-to-point transportation. It may turn out that a lot of people who are perfectly comfortable flying on an aircraft are not going to want to try some of these advanced things right away. Fair enough. But I think there probably are enough people who are willing to give it a try that there's some potential payback, if you will, for the development fund that is going into the activity so far. It turns out that there are more than 150 million people who every year fly on an aircraft flight longer than 10 hours.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm one of them. Yeah, done it.

>> Dr. George Nield: So if just a small fraction of those people could be convinced, how about giving this a try, if it's the same amount of money or maybe just a little bit more, to drastically shrink the time that it would take to do this type of a mission, that would provide more potential revenue and than is spent for all of the launching of satellites that we're doing today.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Our thanks again to Dr. George Nield for speaking with us. And, as I mentioned a few times, he is a Blue Origin astronaut. You know I had to ask him about that experience. And he was so kind to tell me all about it. I have to admit I teared up a bit hearing him describe a culmination of a life's dream and work and becoming an astronaut at age 71. You can hear him describe his flight to suborbital space last year in our extended interview in tomorrow's T-Minus Deep Space. We'll be right back. And welcome back. And for today's fun story to round out the show on this Friday, this one's about women in space and comics. It feels tailor-made for me, honestly. Many space agencies, including NASA, collaborate with artists in pop culture to educate the public about space programs and, well, to add a bit of fun and levity to it all. Very famously, NASA brought in the talents of the legend of American cartooning, Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz. And as a result, Snoopy has been a mascot for countless campaigns, missions, and educational outreach programs about space for decades. And still is. But Schulz isn't the only famous cartoonist that NASA has worked with, not by a long shot. They've also worked with Johnny Hart, whose joke-a-day caveman comic strip BC has graced the funny pages of American newspapers since 1958. And I don't know if you know this, it's actually still in syndication online today, even though Hart died in 2007. Anyway, NASA worked with Hart during Apollo 12 and 13 missions, with his BC characters making cameos throughout flight plans and press materials for those missions. And he also created illustrations for Skylab promotional items. And for his work, NASA gave Hart a Public Service Award in 1972. In any case, Hart's connection to NASA and space comes up in a funny anecdote published today in space.com, written by collectSPACE.com editor Robert Pearlman. A few years before Hart's death, in 2002 to be exact, a BC comic strip had a teacher and a student named Johnny. The teacher asks, "Who was the first woman in space?" Little Johnny then guesses wrong. And then the teacher corrects him, saying in fact that the first woman in space was Sally Ride. One could almost excuse it as classic Americentrism, as the school is flying an American flag out front, and indeed the first American woman in space was Sally Ride. However, Robert Pearlman, who wrote the story, spotted the error here and wrote to Johnny Hart. Indeed it was cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova of the USSR who was the first woman ever in space, 60 years ago today, in fact. The USSR also sent the second woman to space, Svetlana Savitskaya. And it took the United States 20 years to catch up to the USSR's Tereshkova and send the third woman ever to space, American astronaut Sally Ride. Now, in response to the error, the consummate professional Johnny Hart sent this really funny reply to Robert Pearlman: "It looks to me like little Johnny forgot to do his homework and so did big Johnny, (Johnny Hart that is). The teacher has an obvious bias against the USSR, which no longer exists, so I guess nobody did their homework." In any case, we're going for extra credit here today at T-Minus and suggesting that since both Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride made their historic flights in June -- though 60 and 40 years ago, respectively -- we should celebrate June as "Women in Space Month," don't you think?

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And that's it for T-Minus for June 16, 2023. 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. 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 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. Thanks for listening and have a wonderful weekend.

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