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

Ariane 5, once more into the fray.

The final launch of Ariane 5. Space ethics spotlight at CNES. SpaceX and FAA case update. Smartsat of Australia developing AI-powered spacecraft. And more!





So long and thanks for all the fish, Ariane 5. Space ethics in the spotlight this fall at CNES. SpaceX and the FAA seek a case, dismissed. Smartsat of Australia developing AI-powered spacecraft. And our interview today is with Rob Adlard, CEO of Gravitilab. He walks through microgravity services, short duration space access and the growth of the UK space sector.

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

Rob Adlard, CEO of Gravitilab, on microgravity services and the value of short duration space access.

You can follow Rob on LinkedIn.

Selected Reading

See Europe's powerful new Ariane 6 rocket on launch pad (photos)- Space

CNES Creates Space Mission Ethics Committee- European Spaceflight 

SpaceX, FAA ask for dismissal of suit seeking new environmental assessment of Starship launches- San Antonio Express News 

SmartSat and partners commit $7 million to develop AI-enabled spacecraft that operate autonomously- Press Release

New Radio Astronomical Observations Confirm Unintended Electromagnetic Radiation Emanating from Large Satellite Constellations - CPS 

Multi-million pound investment in UK space industry agreed in Leicester- University of Leicester 

Space Force chief seeks to 'shift mindset' to defend Joint Force on the ground- Breaking Defense

iRocket Wins AFWERX Funding for Reusable Rocket Engine Development - Via Satellite

Can Cargo Be Delivered 'To, From, and Through' Space? DOD Wants Ideas Soon- Air & Space Forces Magazine 

Novel Responsive Space Delivery- DIU 

Satellite photos suggest Belarus is building military camp site- Military Times 

India’s Space Business Is Catching Up Fast - The New York Times 

China’s Commercial Space Ventures Pose A Variety of Threats, DOD Officials Say- Defense One 

T-Minus Crew 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: We're keeping an eye on the weather over Kourou, French Guiana. High winds kept the last launch of the Ariane 5 rocket grounded yesterday, which was a bittersweet delay. So fingers crossed for better conditions today and a favorable final flight for the last Ariane 5.

[ Music ]

Today is July 5, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

[ Music ]

So long and thanks for all the fish, Ariane 5. Space ethics in the spotlight this fall at CNES. SpaceX and the FAA seek a case, dismissed. Smartsat of Australia developing AI-powered spacecraft. And much more. And my interview today is with Rob Adlard, CEO of Gravitilab. He walks me through microgravity services, short duration space access and the growth of the UK space sector. Stay with us. Let's take a look at our intel briefing for this Wednesday. The Ariane 5 was delayed again. The July 4th final flight was scrubbed due to high upper winds, so ESA's trying again no earlier than about 5:30 PM Eastern Time tonight. If the Ariane 5 successfully launches tonight, it'll send two communication satellites, one for Germany and another for France's military to geostationary orbit. And that will be the last time we ever see an Ariane 5 rocket fly. And it'll be a good while until we see another Ariane rocket fly at all. But it won't be the last time we see an Ariane rocket on the launchpad. Oh, no. In fact, we've already seen the new Ariane 6, still in development, on the pad as of late June. The European Space Agency released images of the Ariane 6 rocket on the launchpad ahead of engine tests. This new rocket, which has been under development since the early 2010s, is slated to offer lower cost space access than its outgoing predecessor, the Ariane 5. It has a full docket of launch contracts and customer payloads once it gets up and running, including many new Galileo satellites for one thing. But the first launch of the Ariane 6, which was initially planned for 2020, is now expected in the second quarter of 2024 at the earliest. So after, hopefully, today's final flight of the Ariane 5, it is going to be a little while for the next Ariane rocket. And we should mention a quick update to a related story that we covered last Friday. ESA's Euclid telescope successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida from a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Saturday. Euclid was meant to fly aboard the Ariane 6 or Soyuz, but, well, one's been delayed and the other is no longer an option due to the war in Ukraine. Regardless, Euclid is now starting its multi-month journey to L2 to hunt for dark matter. I'm sure Webb will appreciate the company. Keeping with European space for a bit, France's space agency, CNES, has formed a Space Mission Ethics Committee in response to growing privatization in the space sector. The committee, which is composed of four permanent members from diverse backgrounds, will advise CNES on ethical issues related to space activities, particularly concerning the new space industry. CNES explains this a little bit more in a press release, saying this: "In the context of privatization and opening of the space sector to new actors, the committee will seek to favor the right balance between cooperation, competition, sovereignty, and responsibility, by following the principles of international space law resulting from the United Nations Treaty of 1967, while taking into account respect for terrestrial and planetary environments and the interests of future generations." Their work is set to start in fall of 2023. Moving over to the United States now. In the ongoing SpaceX Boca Chica launch site drama -- yes, there is an update now. In a court filing submitted on Friday, SpaceX and the FAA are seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by environmental and tribal groups, alleging inadequate environmental studies at the Boca Chica launch site. The plaintiffs seek to revoke SpaceX's FAA license, which was suspended after the first full Starship Super Heavy launch test in April. For its part, SpaceX denies endangering wildlife or the community, asserting that it complied with FAA mitigation requirements. The firm is working towards another Starship launch later this year, having just conducted a static fire test for Starship 25 last week, while fixes and updates to Starbase itself continue apace. That said, a ruling in the plaintiff's favor could significantly delay SpaceX's Starship Super Heavy program. Now, lots of rocket news today, but let's take a look at satellites now. SmartSat, which is a consortium of universities and other research organizations funded by the Australian government, has initiated a 7 million, three-year project, dubbed "Scarlet-alpha," aiming to develop AI-powered autonomous spacecraft. Partners in the endeavor include Airbus, Ascension, Deakin University, Defense Science and Technology Group, Leonardo Australia, Saab Australia, Swinburne University of Technology, and the University of South Australia. The project will focus on enhancing onboard processing, small spacecraft resilience, constellation resources optimization, and real-time tasking. The resulting AI algorithms will allow spacecraft to make independent decisions and adapt to evolving situations in orbit without Earth's intervention. And it's not just pixel noise and extraneous communications data that astronomers are concerned about when it comes to satellites in LEO. There are new growing concerns now that unintended electromagnetic radiation from LEO constellations, including Starlink, are adding noise to protected VHF bands used by astronomers. In a new study in Astronomy and Astrophysics Journal, Cees Bassa, from ASTRON (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy), writes this: "With LOFAR, we detected radiation between 110 and 188 megahertz from 47 out of the 68 satellites that were observed. This frequency range includes a protected band, between 150.05 and 153 megahertz, specifically allocated to radio astronomy by the ITU." While terrestrial equipment is required to not cause interference with other devices, SpaceX is not violating any rules here, as there are no such interference regulations for equipment on orbit. But for its part, SpaceX is working with the astronomers who worked on the study, and the company has begun making changes to its future Starlink satellites to hopefully mitigate this issue. But certainly the broader issue of the regulatory gap in space equipment causing interference is something to keep an eye on. Global IT and business consulting firm CGI has pledged 2.6 million pounds to the University of Leicester's Manufacturing, Engineering, Technology and Earth Observation Research Center (or METEOR) to enable research that uses CGI's GeoData360 platform to manage and visualize Earth observation and geospatial data. The collaboration aims to drive research around climate change solutions, promoting sustainability, and developing low carbon business models. Now, let's switch over to the military space news now. In an internal Space Force memo reviewed by Breaking Defense, Space Force Chief of Space Operations General Chance Salzman emphasized that the force's mission includes operating in space to defend terrestrial joint forces from adversaries' space-enabled attacks, not merely to protect US satellites. This reflects a shift in mindset recognizing new space threats while not explicitly endorsing the development of offensive space weapons. The quote "logic of space superiority" includes both defensive and offensive strategies, aligned with current military doctrine across all services. This shift suggests a more forward leaning stance by the Space Force amid ongoing development of its doctrine and increased budgetary requests for potential offensive and threat-defeating tools. It also puts the theory of space superiority more in line with Alfred Thayer Mahan's 19th century treatise on sea power and maritime supremacy. Which, if you didn't know, because I sure didn't, is still a driving concept behind the US Navy's grand strategy today. Today, I learned. New York-based iRocket just won an additional $1.8 million for its Phase II SBIR contract with the US Space Force. The funding will go towards a full-duration static fire test of the engine for its Shockwave reusable launch vehicle. iRocket's reusable engine, which is currently in testing, uses a combination of liquid oxygen and methane and produces 35,000 pounds of thrust. The company says this engine will enable the Shockwave to immediately land and reuse both the rocket's first and second stages, as well as the payload fairing. "There's a high amount of interest in this launch vehicle from a national security perspective, as you might imagine," says iRocket, and adds that "the Shockwave will be ready to launch in 2027." The Defense Innovation Unit (or DIU) is seeking commercial solutions for precise point-to-point delivery of small to medium cargo payloads through space, with the goal of supporting remote operations and reconstituting space-based capabilities rapidly, according to a solicitation released by the organization on June 30th. This strategy, which is part of the tactically responsive space concept, could find use in times of crisis and disaster response. And a story filed by our Earth observation is super important desk, recent satellite images reveal a potential military style camp in Belarus, which may be housing members of the Wagner mercenary group. Built in the last two weeks, the camp was allegedly offered as refuge to Wagner mercenaries by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Up to 8,000 fighters may be deployed in the camp, prompting Ukraine to strengthen its border with Belarus. And speaking of Earth observation, over the weekend, Eumetsat shared a first glimpse of lightning strike images taken from its new Meteosat 12 weather satellite, which will be observing Europe and Africa. Meteosat 12 was launched in December, and it's still in testing and not fully commissioned yet. But the images from it so far are pretty impressive. We've got links to the new images in our Show Notes, which you can find at space.n2k.com. And we've included a few extra stories in the Selected Reading section of the Show Notes for you today. The first is a piece from the New York Times about India's space economy. Now, we've been covering India's growing new space sector for a few months now, including our Deep Space interview with Namrata Goswami. While the story doesn't provide any new intel, it has done wonders for our ego that the New York Times is a month behind T-Minus on this particular topic. And the second is an article from Defense One about China's commercial space ventures. Apparently, US DoD officials are concerned. And that should come as no surprise to anyone. But it's important to pay attention to what these officials say and their strategic positioning. Our read is that mil-to-mil relationships between the US and China are, unfortunately, severely strained, and that's not a good thing for maintaining a peaceful space environment. And that's it for our intel briefing for today. Stay tuned for my interview with Gravitilab CEO Rob Adlard coming up next. And hey, T-Minus crew, if you find our podcast useful, please do us a favor and share a five-star rating and a short review in your favorite podcast app. It'll help other space professionals like you to find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much, we really appreciate it.

[ Music ]

For our interview today, let's take a closer look at the fascinating and fast-growing space sector of microgravity services and short duration space access. And today's guest is the perfect person to walk us through it.

>> Rob Adlard: I'm cofounder and CEO and technical director of Gravitilab Aerospace Services. We are a research and testing services company, offering access to short duration space access and microgravity. It's for testing and qualification, fundamental research. All kinds of different industries access our services in order to either develop new products and services or answer fundamental questions about physics.

>> Maria Varmazis: Let's just dive right into that. So let's talk about short duration access to microgravity. So I think our listeners may or may not understand what the importance of microgravity is for certain industries. Maybe we could start there. And then also, why specifically short duration; what's the benefit there?

>> Rob Adlard: All right, so firstly, I am not a scientist, I am just an engineer. But what I know and understand about microgravity is that there are actually a surprising limited number of that environment, which is delivered through microgravity. And that's the absence of buoyancy, sedimentation, hydrostatic pressure. Those things in turn have an effect on the sort of fundamental, kind of scientific effects, which occur and affect absolutely everything in our universe. Some of those effects are observable prior to accessing microgravity. Some of them are only observable in microgravity. One of the easiest ways maybe to understand it, if you have a bit of a math brain, is that if you imagine that you are -- you have an equation which governs the bit of physics you're looking at and gravity is on the denominator, if you're effectively making that zero, then you're dividing by zero, which is going to give you theoretically infinite results. So it's going to completely transform what you're looking at. And that either enables a validation of a mathematical model or enables genuinely new discovery. So the implications are -- so there are kind of two sort of aspects to our services. One is that this fundamental research going on, okay, and one of the kind of easiest -- so this is a particular thing we're doing because it's to do with human spaceflight. But one of the easiest ways to look at it is through this conundrum that some astronauts experience macular degeneration when they're on the ISS. When they come back down to Earth, the body heals itself. So they generally, unless they've been up there for a very long time, they don't have long duration effects of that. There is no cure for macular degeneration. But if we can understand that process, what happens in microgravity and then what happens afterwards, then, you know, there's a lot in there that will give people a lot of hope for cures in the future. And so that's just one example of a tiny, tiny microcosm of the enormous question and answer. And then in addition to that, of course, it's an environment that we're deploying lots of satellites and sensors and all kinds of other things. It's a very challenging environment. And so there's just a fundamental sort of testing of the qualification process for all that sort of hardware, which is about being more sustainable with the way that we use space.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay. So can you walk me through how Gravitilab does that? So, I mean, there -- microgravity is of interest to many different companies, but I'd love to know about your company's approach.

>> Rob Adlard: One of the big things that we're doing is we are doing kind of a new take on a suborbital vehicle. Now, suborbital vehicle, suborbital rocket. It goes into space for a period of time and comes back down. Those were the first rockets created. That's sort of, you know, got a legacy of 100 years. But nobody's really done like what I call a new space treatment of a suborbital rocket in the way that SpaceX has kind of reimagined and redone the way that we do commercial space transportation in an orbital sense. So we're doing that, but we've actually done is take a sort of holistic look at microgravity services and microgravity market and tried to look at how we can address kind of different ends of it. And in a way we try to be kind of agnostic about what the vehicle is. So, you know, we're not a rocket company like Uber's not a taxi company, it's not trying to sell anyone, you know, a Prius. It provide -- it's got this kind of amazing sort of algorithm, which is utilizing the data to transform the way that transportation's delivered. We're trying to use the kind of data and scientific awareness to transform the way that microgravity research is delivered. So we have a couple of different things. So at the scale of a few seconds, we have a patented UAV system, which will give some initial data, which may be then a precursor to a suborbital flight which will give several minutes of a microgravity environment. And then our customers may go on to do other things. So they may then send something to the ISS. Or they might then access feature services where companies fly to space on Space Forge, who are sending things for manufacture in orbit. So it's part of that whole supply chain.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's really fascinating. I was going to say, how do you see your company in the context of, well, I would say the overall space sector, but also specifically just in the UK space sector? Because there's so much going on. You just mentioned Space Forge, for example. Just fascinating growth happening there. I'd love to hear your thoughts on where you fit in there.

>> Rob Adlard: It's a really exciting time. I mean, I don't want to be too parochial about it, but it is quite cool. But there's a lot of energy in the UK right now in the space sector, and it's partly because, at a strategic level, the government knows that it needs to do things in order to develop new tech sectors. We've got now long-term productivity problem, which we're trying to solve. And the way to solve it is investment in new technologies. So there's a lot of interest in that. There's a lot of potential. Because the UK kind of got out of space quite a long time ago, even though we were the third nation to deploy a satellite in orbit, and then sort of recently trying to come back with a bit of big bang. So it's partly about, you know, sort of the world has changed in so many ways. We've had COVID. We've had BREXIT. And so the UK is kind of reimagining itself a little bit. But actually, the plan to gain a bigger chunk of the space sector dates back to 2006, I think, so it's really quite a while ago now. But I think we've reached the tipping point where there are a lot of startups. The UK is only second to the US in terms of investment in space. And, of course, we're trying to kind of complete the circle of the supply chain with not just building small satellites but being able to qualify them and then being able to deploy them in space as well, as well the government's ambitions to be a science superpower. So we kind of fit sort of somewhere in between those things, where we're helping qualify things for space, we're part of a launch story. We'll be launching from UK spaceports. But we're also kind of a big enabler for science.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's fantastic. And if you can speak about it, what is your long-term vision for your company? I know sometimes that's under wraps, but I'd really love to know maybe your dreams, for lack of better terms.

>> Rob Adlard: Yeah, so many dreams. So I think that the great thing about services is that, you know, again, if you're sort of like agnostic about how you're delivering those, then -- you know, the golden strand that we have is sort of discovery in a way. So, you know, there will not be an end to science. We're not going to have finished physics in a couple of years. That's just going to kind of go on and on and on. You know, there will be more and more to discover and more and more to look at. You know, so we can produce -- well, we certainly -- the vehicle that we're starting with is called ISAAC, and it's a very small suborbital vehicle. It will have the lowest per launch cost in the world, which is about lowering the barrier for access, okay. It will be much less. Half anything that exist right now. Once we've done that, then there's the market scale, there's more involvement. Obviously, we'll build bigger vehicles, which are more aligned to then sort of ESA and NASA requirements in terms of their scientific programs. And then we'll be looking at longer durations of microgravity going from minutes to then possibly days, weeks, and months. So that's what I would say there. And part of that kind of big strand is, of course, is that we are looking at not just the vehicles but we've got a virtually integrated approach with developing payloads. So one of the things that we have been doing recently is working with the University of Manchester and the Material Science Department to create a thermal conditional module, which I can't say too much about. But that's about sort of them, you know, doing some science in a microgravity and space environment. And that module can then be sort of a ubiquitous way to do similar kinds of science. And we hope to kind of, you know, extrapolate that and roll that out in other industries -- bio, for example, pharma -- so that we can help those companies do that. So we're not just sort of doing the vehicle and then, you know, you have to do everything else on your own. Developing the payload, helping, you know, make sure that our customers get the science done, the data they need is a big part of our service too. So I think another thing as well as the science, which is the thing that, you know, we're always really, really interested in, it's the hardware qualifications. So at the moment, though it's sort of very seldom talked about, there's a very high interest in making space more sustainable and avoiding space debris. But there's a very high failure rate of very small payload formats. The space sector is kind of not like the aerospace sector and automotive sector, where they're very big testing services companies. So in one sense, we are just a testing service company as well for the hardware, so we can deploy hardware in space and get it back again quickly. So I think, you know, forget about whether it's called a suborbital vehicle, whatever it is, if you say, you know, do you think it's useful to be able to put something into space really quickly and get it back the same day, pretty much everybody would nod their head and say yes, I'm sure there's great value in that. What have you invented? Well, you know, it's just a suborbital vehicle, but a new take on that kind of fit the purpose for I would say space debris mitigation by doing the technical qualification, getting the hardware back before it's deployed in an orbital setting.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. Now, here at T-Minus, we're pretty proud of our very, very excellent sound design, and it pains us to have to play audio where the mic is audibly buzzing from being overloaded. But we promise this is for a good reason.

[ Music ]

And that reason is hearing what it's like to put PACE through its paces. That was the US Marine Band playing Also sprach Zarathustra very, very loudly, in the NASA Goddard Acoustics Chamber, which is also where NASA's PACE (or Plankton Aerosol Cloud and ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft went through its own acoustical testing this past spring. And acoustical testing, as you might've gathered, is extremely loud. And it's a test to see if and how well a spacecraft can withstand the sound vibrations from the extremely loud event known as a rocket launch. As a former band kid, i can attest that the idea of playing a whole bunch of great tunes from Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, Also sprach Zarathustra, to the themes from Jaws and Star Wars, that loudly in an acoustic chamber just seems absolutely awesome. All 37 members of the band were wearing ear protection, in case you were concerned. At their loudest, the band played 116 decibels. Meanwhile, PACE was subjected to about 138 decibels. But this fun exercise wasn't just an exercise in loudness. In fact, the US Marine Band came back to the acoustics chamber the next day, but outside of it this time, and gave a concert at a much more normal decibel level. In that concert, the US Marine Band played the world premiere of the PACE Fanfare for Goddard employees.

[ Music ]

The Fanfare, which you're listening to now, is an original composition written by Gunnery Sergeant Scott Ninmer, which he wrote especially for the PACE mission. PACE will be launching in 2024, and its mission will be to study Earth's oceans from space.

[ Music ]

And that's it for T-Minus for July 5, 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. N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment: your people. We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tré Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

[ Music ]

Similar posts

Stay in the loop on new releases. 

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