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Electron’s hypersonic suborbital test packs a Wallop.

Launch complex upgrades for Relativity Space. Skyrora’s 3D printed engine. Rocket Lab’s suborbital Electron test. New space startups join Copernicus. And more!





Launch complex upgrades are afoot for Relativity Space’s Terran R. Skyrora’s 3D printed engine hits a testing milestone. Rocket Lab’s suborbital Electron test packs a Wallop. European new space startups join Copernicus. We speak with Chief Corporate Development Officer for D-Orbit, Jonathan Firth, all about their recent activities. And, Alice brings us on-the-ground coverage from day one of the Spaceport America Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico!

You can find out more about the competition at SpaceportAmericaCup.com or SoundingRocket.org.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s show is Jonathan Firth, Chief Corporate Development Officer for D-Orbit.

You can connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn and learn more about D-Orbit on their website.

Selected Reading

Relativity files permit for Launch Complex 16 Terran R upgrades- Space Explored

Skyrora 3D prints and tests new model of orbital engine to prepare for commercial launch- Skyrora 

Leidos' MACH-TB program successfully completes 1st test launch- Leidos 

​​New Space companies join Copernicus- ESA

ESA’s Copernicus reveals carbon monoxide from fires in Canada- SatNews 

Colombia Taps Sweden to Boost Space Ambitions- Via Satellite

Saudi Arabia boosts space education after success of ISS mission- The National News  

ESA backs Greek firms’ and universities’ CubeSats- ESA

Libra Group Launches World's First Dedicated Space Leasing Company- PR Newswire

Debris from ASAT tests creating 'bad neighborhood' in low Earth orbit: Analyst- Breaking Defense 

The Space Industry Is Taking Off. Space Law Is Still a Mystery.- The New York Times 

The Low Earth Orbit Satellite Space Race: Starlink Versus AST SpaceMobile- Forbes

The future of space on a plate: This chef explores the food that will take us to Mars and beyond- ZME Science

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>> Maria Varmazis: We're coming back from a three-day weekend here at T-Minus studios and noticed our inbox was full of stories from New Space, big development in hypersonics, interesting new progress on 3D-printed vehicles and components, and ESA's 25-year-old Copernicus program. Oh yes, there's a new space angle there too.

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Today is June 20th, 2023. It's the opening day of the Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Launch complex upgrades are afoot for Relativity Space's Terran R. Skyrora's 3D-printed engine hits a testing milestone. Rocket Lab's suborbital Electron test packs a wallop. European new space startups join Copernicus. And for today's interview, T-Minus producer Alice Carruth speaks with Chief Corporate Development Officer for D-Orbit, Jonathan Firth, all about the company and their recent activities. And Alice brings us on-the-ground coverage from day one of the Spaceport America cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico. All this and more. Stay with us.

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Let's take a look at today's intel briefing, shall we? Relativity Space is ramping up preparations for the launch of its reusable rocket Terran R, expected no earlier than 2026. The company has filed a permit to upgrade Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, moving away from the Terran 1 program. Relativity plans to construct additional facilities, including a larger hangar and new tank farm areas for storing liquid oxygen and methane. Initial upgrades could begin as early as this year, underscoring Relativity's commitment to the Terran R program.

Skyrora, the Edinburgh-based rocket company, is taking significant steps towards its first commercial orbital launch using a new 3D-printed engine. The firm is conducting full duration tests on the engine produced by its new more efficient and cost-effective Skyprint 2 machine. Skyrora aims to conduct orbital launches using its Skyrora XL vehicle from the SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland, pending approval by the Civil Aviation Authority. The new engine features an improved cooling chamber, and each test will run for 250 seconds, mirroring the duration of a real mission to reach orbit.

And we teased this one last week with some reporting from the rumor mill, and we're happy to report now that on Saturday, Rocket Labs successfully launched the first suborbital variant of its Electron vehicle called Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron, or HASTE, from the mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. The payload was the first suborbital testbed vehicle for the Multiservice Advanced Capability Hypersonic Testbed, or MACH-TB.

The program is a direct response to the Pentagon's increased focus on hypersonics development and was awarded to the leadoff's subsidiary Dynetics. The MACH-TB program is tasked with designing an experimental glide body for a series of hypersonic capability tests. The standard Electron vehicle has undergone minor modifications for HASTE, which can now carry payloads of up to 700 kilograms for suborbital tests. The HASTE missions will only launch from Wallops, and Rocket Lab aims for 15 Electron launches in 2023, including both orbital and HASTE missions.

Now, this next story might not sound like it's related to new space. Oh, but it is. Now I'm a big fan of the Copernicus mission, Europe's eyes on Earth. Some interesting news about the European Earth observation satellite program today, ESA announced that nine new satellite data providers representing Team New Space are now part of Copernicus. They're the first European new space companies to be a part of Copernicus, and they're going to be part of the Copernicus contribution missions, which already have over 20 privately owned satellite missions in its cohort.

The nine new space constellations will be filling in some informational gaps from ESA's Copernicus sentinels, and add new multispectral, hyperspectral, thermal infrared, and atmospheric composition data to the Copernicus program in hopes of more effectively monitoring climate change impact and to help businesses make smarter decisions to improve their own sustainability practices.

And as this data is part of the Copernicus program, the data will be free and open for all to access. The new space companies from around Europe adding their capabilities to Copernicus are Aerospacelab of Belgium, Promethee and Absolut Sensing in France, EnduroSat of Bulgaria, Kuva, Space Oy of Finland, Constellr and OroraTech of Germany, Aistech Space and Satlantis of Spain.

And one additional shout out to Copernicus, today. The satellites from its Sentinel-5P mission kept an eye on carbon monoxide emissions over North America from May 1st through June 13 this year, and that's because, if you weren't aware, Canada has had a horrible spate of extremely destructive wildfires across the country during that time, no surprise to those of us living in the upper United States and in Canada who have been dealing with the poor air quality lately.

Sentinel-5P satellites mapped out the carbon monoxide concentrations during the wildfires, and it shows pretty dramatically how poor air quality from fires even high up north in British Columbia and Alberta just kind of sweep down all the way to the southern United States. We've got a link to the incredible imagery in our show notes. It's definitely worth taking a look at.

And now a story from the rumor mill about an establishment space company, so to speak. Reuters has an exclusive story today saying that Ball Corporation is exploring selling its aerospace unit for upwards of around $5 billion US. Now Ball has been a major partner in NASA and NOAA missions for quite a long time. Not a big surprise that a company that works in glass is the go-to partner for the optics in massive telescope missions like Hubble and Webb, so why sell?

Well, Ball is over $9 billion in debt, and while the aerospace work itself is steady cash, it doesn't bring in as much as you'd think. It earned Ball 170 million in 2022, so selling off a 5 billion-plus asset would put a big dent in that $9 billion debt. According to the Reuters exclusive, interested buyers include private equity investors, as well as BAE and Textron. On the plus side, if the aerospace unit is sold off, we'll finally see an end to those tired old headlines that go, "Ball, you mean the company that makes mason jars also does space telescope stuff?" unless you like those headlines of course, in which case, I'm sorry.

And now for some news from our international desk, the Swedish Space Corporation and the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology have partnered with Columbia's National Space Program. The collab aims to bolster Columbia's space operations, which include rocket and satellite missions, satellite ground station development, Earth observation, data analytics for climate research, and applications in AI and cybersecurity. Sweden's contributions will draw from its 50 years of experience in space operations, including its global network of satellite ground stations, and we hope for Columbia's sake, their unequaled expertise in meatball engineering. No intel yet on whether the satellites will be delivered as a flat pack.

Saudi Arabia has introduced a scholarship program for students pursuing advanced degrees in space-related fields at the world's top 200 educational institutions. This scholarship aims to fulfill Saudi Arabia's aspirations in space exploration aligning with the kingdom's Vision 2030 policy, a set of economic reforms intended to reduce economic dependence on oil by investing in various high-tech sectors, including space. This move follows a growing trend of increasing interest in space exploration among Arab nations, with countries like the UAE, Oman and Bahrain also taking active steps towards developing their own space programs.

Now this next story is near and dear to my heart. The European Space Agency on behalf of Greece's Ministry of Digital Governance has kicked off an initiative to bolster Greece's budding space industry. Seven CubeSat missions led by small- and medium-sized Greek companies and universities are in development to provide secure connectivity, telecommunications, and Earth-observation services.

The first missions include DUTHSat-2 which will detect marine contamination and monitor agriculture, EMTech which will support cartography, agriculture and land use monitoring. ERMIS will demonstrate space-based 5G IoT communication services. MICE-1 will track shipping in the Aegean Sea. Optisat will validate an optical communications link. It will also demonstrate the use of cognitive cloud computing in space. PeakSat aims to demonstrate secure connectivity. And Phasma which is a three-CubeSat mission will use RF monitoring to provide space situational awareness. Development is in progress, with design review scheduled for this summer, and final acceptance review do within 18 months.

Now the ground station wars continue. The Libra Group has announced its entrance into space infrastructure, establishing itself as the world's first company offering satellites, space ports and other core infrastructure on lease. Under the new arm Space Leasing International, Libra's initial investment includes setting up a ground station in the Alaskan Arctic catering to polar orbits vital for climate change monitoring, and plans to construct 20 more stations worldwide over the next three years. The first assets will be leased to US satellite company RBC Signals.

And finally, we've included four additional stories in the Selected Reading section for you to peruse. The first is from Breaking Defense and it takes a look at the bad neighborhood orbits created by debris from ASAT tests. The second is from the New York Times all about the mystery of space law, a topic we've covered multiple times with our friends from Aegis Space Law, and Michelle Hanlon from the University of Mississippi. And the third is a piece from Forbes about the burgeoning space race among major telecom providers, and finally, a fun one for you all about not astronomy, but gastronomy, a.k.a. space food. You can find those links in the show notes as well as links to all of today's stories.

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That concludes our intel briefing for today. Stay tuned for T-Minus producer Alice Carruth's interview with D-Orbit Chief Corporate Development Officer Jonathan Firth, coming up next.

Hey, T-Minus crew, our audience is growing rapidly, and that's a big thanks to you. If you're just joining us, be sure to follow T-Minus "Space Daily" in your favorite podcast app. And also, do us a favor if you could. Please share your favorite episodes on social media. It helps professionals like you find the show and join the crew. You can find our social media profiles in the show notes and at space.n2k.com.

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Our guest today is Jonathan Firth, Chief Corporate Development Officer for D-Orbit. He spoke with our show producer Alice Carruth about the company and their recent activities. Here's Jonathan explaining D-Orbit's mission.

>> Jonathan Firth: So it's a good place to start. So we are the global leader in the in-space transportation and logistics market, and we've been growing a fleet of orbital transport vehicles since September 2020. So what does that mean in terms of the problems that we solve for customers? It means moving goods, satellites, and information and data around in space, and maybe one day people as well. So the precise deployment of satellites means that there'll be an operation quicker for the customers.

If they're a commercial organization, they'll start earning revenues quicker. We can host new technologies on board our orbital transfer vehicle so that they can be tested not only, you know, so those companies can prove the performance for themselves, but they can demonstrate to investors and board members and stakeholders, you know, that they're making progress. And we also have added and have been working with Amazon Web Services' computer processing capability, so establishing the cloud in space, which has been something we've been working on over the last year or so.

So from an investor point of view or from a business point of view, what we do is launch an orbital transfer vehicle. And it has the capability to deliver satellites to orbit, but then once it's in orbit, it's going to be there for the next few years, and it has several tasks that it can do, hosting payloads, the computer processing and a range of other things that will continue to earn revenue over time.

>> Alice Carruth: So you guys are based in Italy, but are you only focused in the European market right now?

>> Jonathan Firth: Not at all. A lot of our customers are in the United States. So as you say, our headquarters and production center is in Italy. We're near Lake Como in Lombardy in North Italy. Our UK company is based at Harwell, and that's particularly focused on the cloud business line. We have a Portugal company that's located in Lisbon, and that's mainly focused on our mission control software and how we can make that into a business. And we have a small commercial hub in the United States on the East Coast. And, you know, in the future that's certainly one of the markets that we want to grow in.

>> Alice Carruth: So I see D-Orbit comes up quite a lot when European Space Agency is talking about contracts that have gone out. How important are those contracts at helping D-Orbit grow and develop as a company?

>> Jonathan Firth: Yeah, definitely, the European Space Agency (ESA) have been, you know, supportive to the European ecosystem generally, including to D-Orbit, and we've been working with them for a number of years now. You know, as many, you know, young American companies work with NASA and, you know, the equivalent in all the different geographies. So in the case of the European Space Agency, we've just won a contract, an Earth observation project, so it's satellite-as-a-service. It's using the capability of our satellite carrier in space to do jobs, you know, for customers, be it in this particular case, Earth observation but, you know, similarly, they can do telecoms, Internet of Things, navigation, synthetic aperture radar, you know, various uses, and so that's why the Italian government and also with ESA as the partner.

And also we have a Cloud project that's just been awarded and signed with ESA also. So that's establishing intelligent nodes in space, you know, because each satellite carrier that we launch is a node on this network of, you know, cloud data processing in space, each computing on each vehicle, but then the whole sum of the parts coming together as a cloud service.

>> Alice Carruth: So you guys obviously don't provide the launch vehicles. You tend to go out with the Ariane-5, I believe, so far, and I believe you're part of the latest Ariane-5 launch that's coming up, and it's your fifth tug mission this year?

>> Jonathan Firth: Well, in fact, we'd have launched with Ariane. So our first satellite carrier was carried into space in September 2020 by Ariane, but in fact, the latest mission is with SpaceX. And we've been doing a lot of our launches either from Florida or California over the last couple of years. And, you know, we've established a good working relationship with SpaceX, and quite a number of the customers that were flying, you know, their satellites are coming from the US, and so they can be integrated at our facility onsite. They don't have to go all the way to Italy to get put in our carrier to get all- taken all the way back.

So yes, as you say, this is the 11th mission of the satellite carrier since the first one in September 2020. It's our fifth one of 2023 so far, so we're going at a rapid pace, and it's got a whole range of- you know, it's typical really, in terms of the different customers that we're carrying and the types of technology that they're putting into space or testing. It covers- you know, it covers a range of different types of customers with traditional aerospace, and the new space companies who, in some cases, are still testing that technology to raise funds, you know, to close their business case, and also government and institutional customers as well.

>> Alice Carruth: So tell me a little bit about what attracted you to D-Orbit and what your role has really developed into. What's it been like working for them?

>> Jonathan Firth: It's been great. I mean, I really enjoyed my time working in The States. I was there for nearly five years, and then when I decided to come back and work in Europe, you know, there were various companies that I spoke to. And the thing about D-Orbit that really sort of captured- you know, they were at that early stage. There were 60 people at that stage, just about three and a half years ago, and they were developing, you know, their technology on a very lean basis and, you know, raising very little funding, you know, if you compare it, you know, with the equivalent-sized organizations in the US for example, or in other markets.

And I just saw this, really- the potential of the technology, you know, to solve different problems. You know, they were really sort of market-focused, and really thinking about what the customers needed, established, you know, satellite operators, be it in geostationary orbit or in low-Earth orbit, but also the new organizations that were coming along. So, the way they developed the company was not by raising a lot of money. It was by identifying a market that they could service, you know, making revenue there, and that enabled them to move along and widen out as the market expanded.

So it was that sort of pragmatic, commercial approach that I really liked and, you know, international as well. So continuing to work with people in the US, but also in many other countries around the world was- you know, I've been just today for example, I've been speaking to people in North America, Asia, the Middle East, you know, and that's the typical day, really. So, you know, that was that as well. There was an opportunity to apply my experience as well.

I've gained some experience and some knowledge and it was an opportunity to apply that, and I really liked the roadmap that they had sort of identified, you know, for the future and it was not sort of pragmatic, you know, "It must be this way." It was pragmatic in the sense of, "This is how we think it's going to develop and, you know, we'll use this roadmap as a filter to see, you know, if we're on the right track, and then if the market changes, you know, we can flex with it."

>> Alice Carruth: So you sort of touched on it a little bit earlier in our conversation, and I know your background is in human transportation. What is D-Orbit thinking about when it comes to possibly taking humans to space in the future?

>> Jonathan Firth: I think, you know, that's for us, that's some far, you know, way off. But, you know, I wouldn't rule it out. But, you know, the thing that we're focused on at the moment, and the things that we see coming next are, you know, occupying most of our efforts, so having established the transportation business and, you know, that being operating now for nearly three years, and then adding that layer of services that we can provide once our satellite carrier is in space.

We can combine all of that. We've proven a lot of the technologies that allow us to play in a market that's just developing now called in-orbit servicing. And so you often hear about active debris removal as being an element of that, but from our point of view, it's also, you know, the many satellites that are already in space and the many satellites that are going to join them in space will need, over time, will need some sort of, if you want to call it, a roadside assistance-type of service.

So they'll need rescuing. They'll need repositioning, refueling, close inspection. We'll need to rendezvous and dock, you know with some of them, and we can provide that roadside assistance service. And a lot- you know, probably about 80% of the technology that is required to do that has already been proven, you know, on the many missions that we've now done in space.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

>> Alice Carruth: This is Alice Carruth, T-Minus "Space Daily" producer, and for this week, roving reporter in New Mexico. I'm covering events at the 2023 Spaceport America Cup, the world's largest student rocket engineering competition. The teams have all registered their participation in the event which opened today at the Las Cruces Convention Center. Judges are marking the teams on their engineering knowledge, safety standards, and in some cases, their payloads. So we're going to start off, then. Sounds good. This is the final day to evaluate their rocket designs before going out to Spaceport America to launch the vehicles.

>> Chris Lopez: Hello, this is Chris Lopez, Director of Site Operations at Spaceport America. You know, this competition is really a symbol of what the next evolution is for the industry. Spaceport America was created to grow the commercial space industry in New Mexico, and this this competition really is just one small part of that showing the next generation of business leaders, of inventors, of innovators, and so this competition means a lot to Spaceport America because it helped to grow the industry, but it's also future folks that may start businesses here in our region.

>> Alice Carruth: I caught up with some of the teams to find out about their rockets.

>> Julia Bowden: Hi, I'm Julia Bowden. I'm part of the New Mexico State University rocketry team named Atomic Aggies. I am one of this year's recovery leads. One of the things I'm most excited for is to see our rocket hit apogee, and see our parachutes come out. I think everyone else is looking forward to our payload which is a rover that'll be depositing green chili seeds.

>> Woman: Oh, my gosh.

>> Alice Carruth: 116 teams, over 1,600 participants are representing 20 different countries as part of the competition this year.

>> Martin Yashakovich: My name is Martin Yashakovich [phonetic]. I'm from Team 27, SimLE SimBa from Gdansk University of Technology in Poland. We are coming all the way from Europe. It took us a long way and we happy to be here. We are flying to 10,000 feet, also known as three kilometers altitude and we are flying a hybrid rocket engine, which is student-researched and designed by us.

>> Alice Carruth: The team from Chennai, India told us why student rocket groups are important for their country.

>> Ishan Mankodi: I'm Ishan Mankodi and I'm from IIT Madras. In India, we feel the regulations are still not yet there. Our space program was only very recently privatized if you compare it with the USA. They have very well-established private companies. But definitely the government policies as well as the student teams and universities are taking up the initiative to make rocketry and model rocketry more popular in India, and we feel that is taking effect. So this year, we have, I don't know, 5, 4, 5-plus Indian teams who have been doing well in both satellite and rocketry-based competitions. So yeah, it's picking up.

>> Alice Carruth: T-Minus Space will be part of the live stream of the launch days for the competition, which starts tomorrow, June 21st at Spaceport America's launch facility. We will bring you updates on all the teams performances throughout the week.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And that's it for T-Minus for June 20th, 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 Elliott Peltzman and Trey 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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