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How’d you solve a problem like a space launch?

UK reviews the licensing regime for launch. New bill proposed to strengthen US spaceport operations. Commercial space weighs in on new legislation. And more.





UK Science, Innovation and Technology committee releases report on licensing for launch. US Senator Marco Rubio proposes the "Enhancing Spaceport Operations Act," to allow the military to provide space launch support services to commercial entities. Commercial space industry weighs in on a new commercial space bill under review by the US House Science Committee, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Today’s guest is Tom Stroup, President of the Satellite Industry Association, on the SIA's mission and broadband initiatives.

You can connect with Tom on LinkedIn and find out more about SIA on their website.

Selected Reading

UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure: reviewing the licencing regime for launch - Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

Industry offers wish list for commercial space legislation- SpaceNews

Senator Rubio Introduces Bill to Strengthen Spaceport Operations- West Orlando News

Space Force to open launch business to a third provider- C4ISRNET

SpaceX rocket launches 54 Starlink satellites and lands at sea on record-tying 16th flight (video)- Space.com

Australian Space Agency says mystery item on Green Head beach could be part of 'foreign space launch vehicle'- ABC AU

The Growing Demand for Sovereign Space Systems- Via Satellite

50% mark reached!- ELT updates

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>> Maria Varmazis: The phrase "building the airplane as you fly" -- meaning, figure it out as you go along -- is one of those corporate idioms that has made its way into the common lexicon. Well, perhaps one of these days we'll also hear a new albeit clunky version of this one, maybe something like this, "fixing up spaceport licensing procedures as the spaceport is being built." Hmm, maybe we'll workshop that one a little bit.

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Today is July 17, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus. UK reviews the licenses regime for launch. US Senator Rubio proposes a new bill to strengthen spaceport operations. Commercial space weighs in on new legislation. And today's guest is Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industry Association, on the SIA's mission and broadband initiatives. Don't miss it. And now on to today's intel briefing. This whole commercial space thing, part of what's so exciting about it is that it's all still pretty new as things go. That also means there are still parts of it where things are kind of being figured out as we go along. That's especially apparent when we talk about spaceports. Because as of right now, there are 17 active vertical launch supporting spaceports in the world. But if you count all the planned or announced spaceports out there, that number goes up to 80. Quite a delta between 17 and 80. And do most nations have the processes for getting those spaceports up and running as smoothly as some in the industry would like? Not even close. And that's the issue under scrutiny right now in the UK, as work on SaxaVord Spaceport continues to progress. Meanwhile, several companies who want to launch satellites from UK sites like SaxaVord are saying the regulatory approval process for receiving a launch license from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority is too burdensome and long, causing avoidable launch delays. And a new report from the House of Commons Science, Innovation, and Technology Committee is agreeing with the industry's assessment. The new report took a close look at the launch approval process for the attempted orbital launch for the now defunct Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall. That launch was delayed from autumn 2022 to early 2023 due to the licensing process, which the CAA says took a standard 15 months to complete. The report says, "representatives from Space Forge and Virgin Orbit told us that they were concerned that the requirements of the UK's license process were too stringent, and that the Civil Aviation Authority was not processing license applications at a quick enough pace." For companies going through the CAA's licensing procedures, they're encountering burdensome, decentralized bureaucracy that's really slowing down the process. Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart, said this in the report: "Many organizations had an interest or statutory requirement to have an interest in the launch, including maritime, environmental, health and safety, nuclear, and lots of other organizations. We found that we needed to rehash information many times. And sometimes he asks would change in terms of the level of depth or the kinds of information we needed. There was not what I would call a central clearing house, where you put your information in and then the system is satisfied." The term that comes up a lot in the committee's report is simply "streamlining." If the CAA can't make the process easier to comply with, the UK risks losing space launch business to other countries, the industry partners warn. And for their part, the CAA says they're taking this feedback to heart and plans on making more changes to the licensing process. That echoes some of the feedback from Frank Strang, who is the CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, who said to the committee that it was a slow start at first for the licensing process with the CAA, but "that they now had a very good relationship with the space regulation team, and that they had no issues at the moment with the way their license application was progressing." So you should expect more information on lessons learned from the delayed Virgin Orbit launch, and how those lessons will be applied to UK space launch from the House Committee by September. And, hey, the UK's not at all alone in trying to figure this all out. A similar discussion is also happening in the United States right now regarding commercial space. A number of industry voices in the United States spoke at a hearing of the US House Science Committee, which is developing a preliminary commercial space bill. Though there is no timeline for this one yet. This conversation is especially timely with the potential October 1st expiration of the Federal Aviation Administration's "learning period" for commercial space. Even if that learning period is extended -- which is what a lot of industry partners are urging the FAA to do -- there's lots of work to be done in developing what commercial spaceflight regulations should look like in the United States and which agency or agencies should be overseeing those regulations, while still keeping US commercial spaceflight internationally competitive. We'll be keeping an eye on that one, too. And speaking of US legislation, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has put forward the Enhancing Spaceport Operations Act. And this could really shake things up for the commercial space industry. Today, the US Space Force relies entirely on commercial providers but lacks the authority to fully support their needs. The bill aims to change that by giving the secretary of any military department -- and that's the secretaries of the Air Force, Army, and the Navy -- the authority to support federal and commercial space launches using domestic military installations. Okay, so what does that mean? It means the US military could directly provide space launch support services to commercial entities. Imagine getting supplies, services, equipment, and even construction aid directly from the Department of Defense. There's a catch, though. Any support from the Department of Defense would come with costs. Direct costs associated with the goods and services they provide would need to be reimbursed. Even indirect costs might be included based on what's deemed reasonable. Today, commercial launches from military spaceports come with a bill that includes narrowly drawn direct costs. With this proposed change, the bill would include a broader list of direct and indirect costs associated with the launch service. That being said, any funds collected from industry would go back to respective departments, reducing the taxpayer burden. This proposed legislation has a ripple effect, too. It is expected to directly benefit operations like Space Launch Delta 45 at Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This all spells out more opportunities and a greater cooperative push in the space sector. And it's not a surprise that's being proposed by a Florida senator. Staying with Space Force, and US Space Systems Command has announced an update to the next phase of the National Space Security program. and it looks like this could be big news for a third commercial space launch provider. Initially, this program was looking for just two companies to assist with its space lift requirements, but this update opens up a chance for a third company to benefit from the program. The formal call for proposals is expected for later this summer. It says a lot about recent developments in aerospace that we don't see a Falcon 9 liftoff as news anymore. But, hey, we do love a launch here at T-Minus and obviously want to mark the record-tying 16th flight for the SpaceX booster. The launch on Saturday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida carried 54 new Starlink satellites to orbit, which will be the last set of the version 1.5 satellites for SpaceX, as it transitions to the new version 2 of the Starlink Internet vehicles. And we do really love a space junk story on our show, normally about removal, of course. But there's something that satisfies our treasure-hunting hearts when we hear about parts of vehicles washing up on beaches. And now Australia believes that they have found part of an Indian rocket on their shores. A piece of space debris washed up on a remote beach in Green Head, 250 kilometers north of Perth, where it was found and reported by curious locals. The object appears to be a fuel cylinder from the third stage of India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Though, that is yet to be confirmed. The authorities say that the object is safe and there's no risk to the community. Imagine the local metal detectors were most satisfied with that find. And that concludes our daily intel briefing. But you can read more about all the stories we've covered in our Show Notes at space.n2k.com. We've also included an op-ed from Via Satellite on the growing demand for sovereign space systems. The piece takes a look at how nations with little sovereign space infrastructures are increasingly opting to buy their own satellites for communications and observation purposes. And hey, T-Minus crew, every Monday, we produce a written intelligence roundup, it's called Signals and Space. So if you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal, no noise. You can sign up for Signals and Space in our Show Notes or at space.n2k.com. Our guest for today is Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industry Association, on the SIA's mission and broadband initiatives. Now, Tom recently testified before the House Committee on Agriculture on broadband Internet access. So we started our conversation with me asking if he could tell me a bit more about that testimony and also little bit about the SIA's position on rural broadband access.

>> Tom Stroup: The hearing was on bridging the digital divide. And, of course, it's great interest among policymakers on how we can ensure that everybody in the country has access to broadband. And not just every person, but basically all locations, especially as we get into things like precision agriculture. But that's the major driver, the major policy driver, is trying to ensure 100% access to broadband services. And so the agriculture committee is interested in how they can ensure that there is service available in rural America. And there are a variety of other programs that are underway or have been underway within the federal government in order to help achieve this goal. But their focus was on rural America. Of course, a lot of it is for those communities, those people, who live outside urban areas, a small-town America, think of it that way. But also helping ensure that there's access to communication systems for precision agriculture. So that was the overall theme. The points that I was seeking to emphasize were that the satellite industry has connectivity over all 50 states today, services available today. Our costs are decreasing. We have the ability to be able to provide service to people very quickly, within a matter of days, as opposed to having to lay fiber in order to reach an area of the country. Which was some of the representatives of of other organizations, that was their emphasis, or wireless fiber connectivity. So each of us, you know, emphasizing different points, but the highlights that I made were just the ones that I mentioned: ubiquitous coverage, availability of service today, decreasing costs, and increasing speeds, and increasing capacity.

>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. And I was reading through the policy recommendations that you made. I'm very interested in what the satellite industry is interested in, given the nature of our show. So I wanted to ask about a few of them. I just wanted to learn more about what they mean. So one of them, we talk about it a bunch on our show but it's not easy for many people to understand I think sometimes: the protection of the satellite spectrum, specifically. There was also opportunities for sharing or repurposing underutilized spectrum bands. It sounds like two separate issues. But could you talk about both of those and a little bit on what those mean and why this is so important to the SIA?

>> Tom Stroup: Yeah. So virtually all of our members are dependent upon utilization of spectrum one way or another. I mean, if you're a manufacturer, you're selling to companies that are using spectrum for the variety of services that we provide. And it's not just broadband. I mean, whether it's distribution of video systems, direct-to-home TV services, whether it's remote-sensing, all of them rely on spectrum. And we're not the only industry that is dependent upon spectrum in order to provide the services. And so it's a continuous battle within the industry, among industries, as to who is going to have access to spectrum as it's made available or as we seek to repurpose it. And the satellite industry has a long history of sharing spectrum among its selves, among different members of the industry. And we've shared with other industries. But a few years ago, there was a proceeding at the FCC that essentially changed how we used one of the bands of spectrum, requiring us to share with terrestrial wireless users. Which creates a complexity that didn't exist before. And so when we talk about sharing, you know, those are some of the issues that are associated -- with whom are we going to have to share? You know, who has primary access if there's interference caused? Who's responsible for mitigating the interference? So those are some of the issues. And, of course, we need more access to spectrum, more spectrum to be able to continue to grow, just given the growth rates that we've seen in new entrants into the industry. And again, we're not unique in that respect. But those are the points that we're really seeking to make, is that, you know, we need more spectrum, the spectrum that has been allocated needs to be preserved for the satellite industry. And if we are going to share -- and increasingly policymakers are looking at the need to share spectrum -- the terms under which they are shared are very important. And, of course, the federal government has a lot of spectrum. And that is often one of the sources of seeking to reallocate spectrum or to share spectrum. Many of those spectrum bands are used for satellite services. So, you know, we provide service to the commercial industry but also the US government and especially the military is a big user of spectrum. So trying to ensure that even if it is not commercial satellite spectrum that we're talking about -- if it's something that's allocated to the government but is used for satellite purposes -- that we're doing it in a way that is very mindful of the potential for interference and the importance our industry has in national security and, you know, the economy. So those are all the points that we're seeking to make.

>> Maria Varmazis: All right, so I'm going to move away from the testimony to Congress and just talk more in general about the SIA's policies. And I would love to get some information on a phrase that I keep reading that I'd love to know more about: so "technology neutrality policy approach." And that's on -- I saw that on satellite broadband policy, specifically. But that's a phrase I saw a number of times, and I was wondering if you could walk me through what that means?

>> Tom Stroup: Yeah. So the desire is to not have policymakers prefer one technology over another or weigh the scale in selection of funding recipients would be a good example. And so there are ways that it can be done overtly. Which is just saying, you know, we're only going to provide funding for a certain type of service. You could say fiber optics or satellite service for that matter. But there are also ways of dealing with by setting requirements, technical requirements. And so, you know, going back to the hearing, you may recall that one of the representatives was advocating symmetrical speeds. That's a way of essentially saying fiber optics should be the only technology that is eligible for funding. And, of course, our response is, that's just not what the marketplace demands. But when we talk about technology neutrality, it's not limiting funding programs' eligibility for providing service for different types of areas. And, you know, again, going back to the agricultural hearing, rural America. Not limiting to any one industry, any one technology. And that's what we mean. But again, not just from a policy perspective, but also from an implementation perspective. And so, you know, there's another program for funding broadband in the country, a program being handled by NTIA, and the funding is going to the states. And to be determined how this is going to play out, because each of the states is going to be responsible for the selection of the award recipients. But it could very well be that there the satellite industry is at a disadvantage just because of the implementation approach that's taken at that level. But that's what we mean when we talk about technology neutrality.

>> Maria Varmazis: I saw a number of really fascinating areas on SIA website, and one was on cybersecurity, which is something I'm always interested in. Another one that I think given especially that we've talked about the increasing proliferation of satellites on orbit, space sustainability. I would love to hear a little bit about SIA's position on that, and also if there are any thoughts about what's coming within space satellite servicing or what's already happening or what's going to happen there.

>> Tom Stroup: Yeah. So certainly space sustainability is a very important issue to SIA and its members. And so there are different approaches that companies recommend to address some of the more detailed issues when it gets into that. And so we started by putting together a set of principles several years ago, and have been working with policymakers on, you know, creating a broad construct to address some of those issues. Also, we've addressed the issue of who should take on the role of space situational awareness. That's something that has been discussed for a number of years as we transitioned away from the Defense Department having the primary responsibility to a civil organization. And so we've dealt with recommendations as it relates to that. So I think that the key point is, it's very important to the industry. We've worked with policymakers on those areas where we can achieve consensus. SIA is a consensus-based organization. And when you start getting into some of the details, such as maneuverability, it's not just that satellites should be maneuverable, but how you achieve that. You know, that's where there are different technologies, different companies that have deployed different technology, where there's not necessarily consensus within SIA. But again, it continues to be one of the more important issues that we're working on and will continue to work on and will continue to update our policies and our recommendations as we're able to achieve consensus on some of the different points. But, you know, you've seen that the SEC made a modification to the lifespan. You know, that's an area where there was consensus that 25 years was too long. Now we're starting to get into some of the additional details where there may not necessarily be consensus within SIA.

>> Maria Varmazis: Definitely something to keep an eye on. Yes, I remember what you're talking about with the updated longevity rule. So that was a big update. So I realize we're coming up on time, I want to be sensitive to that. So I wanted to give you the floor, if there's anything that you wanted to mention about the SIA.

>> Tom Stroup: Yeah, just one other thing that I want to touch on is cybersecurity, which you had mentioned. Again, a very important issue to our members. I would say that because most of our members sell services or equipment to the government and especially the military, this is something that has been a requirement within our industry for a long time, being able to meet their requirements. And so we are attempting to work with policymakers on the best way to be able to disseminate information. One of the examples that is discussed widely within policymaker circles is whether space should be declared as critical infrastructure. Segments of the industry are already considered critical infrastructure. And, of course, cybersecurity is a big aspect of that. And so we're working on ensuring our members understand exactly what that would mean and put together -- potentially put together a recommendation on that. But again, virtually all of our members have had to deploy systems that have addressed cybersecurity challenges. When the war in Ukraine broke out, we were asked to notify our members that they might be susceptible to cyber attacks. Which, of course, we did. But when I received it, I thought, our members already know this. So again, it's just such an important issue. Think of it as given the critical role that satellites play in the US economy and the worldwide economy, we know that we're a potential target and have taken steps to address that.

>> Maria Varmazis: And when the SIA comes out with an official policy document on that, I'd love to learn more about that. So I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that news. Tom, thank you so much for walking me through it. I really appreciate your time and expertise today. It was a pleasure having you.

>> Tom Stroup: Thank you.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. Now let's talk about telescopes. So for telescopes, there's large, then there is very large, and now there's extremely large. Okay, the latter isn't completed yet, but it has reached a critical milestone in Chile. The European Space Observatory has released images of the extremely large telescope, fondly referred to as the ELT, as it's reached 50% completion. Once it is completed in 2028, ELT will be the world's largest optical/near infrared telescope. Now, I can hear what you're thinking: Is there really a need for more terrestrial telescopes when we have the absolutely incredible James Webb Space Telescope, now beaming back bold, beautiful images of deep space? And the answer is, yes. The demand for time on telescopes is still high, and it can be quite a complicated process to get some of that time. First, you need to filter through the telescopes on offer and figure out if they work with what you're looking to achieve. And then you must apply TAC. No, not tactics. You have to go through the Telescope Allocation Committee, known as TAC, which is responsible for comparing all of the proposals for each telescope. TAC creates a ranking of each proposal based on the quality of scientific importance, as well as the appropriateness of the telescope to the task. And at the moment, there is much more demand than availability for the best telescopes. So I'm sure there are astronomers around the world letting out little whoops of excitement at the latest news from ELT. More telescope availability means more science. Who doesn't love that? Definitely check out ESO's video on ELT in our Show Notes for the latest on its build status. It is very, very cool. And that's it for T-Minus for July 17, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, be sure to check out our Show Notes at space.n2k.com. And as always, we'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in our 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'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. Learn more at n2k.com. 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. We'll see you tomorrow.

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