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SpaceX opens the floodgates to possible fines.

SpaceX tests its flame deflector system. Sierra Space awarded a $22.6M to develop the Vortex Advanced Upper Stage Engine. Aeolus reentry success. And more.





SpaceX tests its new flame deflector water deluge system. Elon Musk says SpaceX provided its knowledge of crewed parachute systems to Boeing. The US Air Force has awarded Sierra Space Corporation a $22.6 million contract for the maturation of the Vortex Advanced Upper Stage Engine. ESA successfully assists the reentry of defunct satellite Aeolus, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s show is Doug Milburn, Cofounder of Protocase, on the evolution to ProtoSpace Mfg, and rapid innovation and prototyping for the space industry.

You can connect with Doug on LinkedIn and learn more about ProtoSpace Mfg on their website.

Selected Reading

SpaceX hasn't obtained environmental permits for 'flame deflector' system it's testing in Texas- CNBC



Sierra Space Books Air Force Contract for Maturation of Advanced Upper Stage Engine- Executive Biz

Aeolus: a historic end to a trailblazing mission- ESA

ISRO’s PSLV-C56 puts 7 satellites in orbit; four more missions this year- The Hindu

China tests advanced hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine for space program- CGTN

NASA Mission Update: Voyager 2 Communications Pause- NASA

Incoming leaders for Space Command, Northern Command, NORAD set to be delayed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on confirmations- The Gazette

Aerojet eyes resource sharing, renewed stability after L3Harris buy- Defense News

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>> Maria Varmazis: We know that SpaceX is doing amazing things, and they also get a lot of the attention out there in the world, sometimes to the unfair exclusion of other great things that are going on. Here at T-Minus we try to do our best to make sure we cover the whole gamut of what's happening in space. But sometimes that does just mean quite a bit of SpaceX news like today. Today, we've got a whole Musk myriad. A slew of SpaceX stories if you will. So, let's take a look at what's going on.

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Today is July 31st, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-minus.

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SpaceX tests its new flame deflector water deluge system. Elon Musk says SpaceX provided its knowledge of crude parachute systems to Boeing. The US Air Force awards Sierra Space Corporation a new contract. And our guest today is Doug Milburn, cofounder of ProtoCase on the evolution to ProtoSpace MFG and rapid innovation and prototyping for the space industry. Stay with us.

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Now here's our intel briefing for this Monday. First up, there were videos on Friday of a deluge at Boca Chica. SpaceX was kicking the tires on the new flame deflector water deluge system which is meant to dampen the effects of a massive launch. That in turn could help prevent future incidents of that nasty flying chunks of concrete problem that we saw with the starship orbital flight test back in April. These deluge systems have been a common sight on many a launch pad over the years. It's emission in the first starship flight test left many watchers wondering why? Well, SpaceX has been working on it it looks like. The only problem seems to be, according to CNBC, that the company did not have and didn't even apply for the environmental permits needed to flood the delicate wetlands surrounding the launch site with the deluge of wastewater. In this case, called industrial process water. Environmental permits for industrial processed water are required as part of the Federal Clean Water Act and would mandate both treatment and safe disposal. Penalties for not complying with this can include fines up to $50,000 a day. Right now, Texas state environmental regulators are actively evaluating the water deluge system to determine if environmental laws were actually violated. Undoubtedly the plaintiffs suing SpaceX and the FAA for environmental damages from the Starship OFT are watching this with great interest. As are we. Now on to the second SpaceX story for you. And this one's leaving us scratching our heads a little bit. In response to a tweet or post or X or whatever's supposed to call them now, by Eric Berger of Ars Technica about Boeing's financial losses on Starliner so far, as sometimes happens Elon Musk himself took to his thumbs and replied directly saying this. "SpaceX provided its knowledge of crude parachute systems to Boeing, and we are happy to be helpful in any other ways. Designing parachutes for orbital crude spacecraft is much harder than it may seem. Was a major challenge for SpaceX." So, that's an interesting note. Side commentary online about this note from Musk was that this is a great example of coopetition because space is hard, but what we don't know is when this information was shared because that kind of changes how you read this rather considerably. Was this information sharing done a while ago yet the chute woes persisted, or were they shared much more recently when the woes came to light? Likely we will find out from Boeing themselves sooner or later. And lastly, a quick rundown of a story in Futurism's the bite that we're linking for you in the show notes. The headline for this one is, "FAA Throws Cold Water on SpaceX's Next Starship Orbital Launch." And the crux of this story is that Starship is indefinitely grounded pending FAA approvals. Despite what Elon Musk might be saying about the next orbital launch happening sooner rather than later. So, is this a bit of a nothingburger or not? Give this story a read for yourself and decide. We've linked it at space.n2k.com. Last one. Speaking of SpaceX, now this one's related, but not about Elon Musk anymore. I promise. Maxar Technologies has announced that the Jupiter 3 satellite is performing as expected after launching on a Falcon Heavy last week. Maxar built the enormous satellite for Hughes Network Systems joining four other satellites that Maxar has built for the company. The 14 solar panels on board the Jupiter 3 can span a 10-story building. Now Jupiter 3, which is also known as EchoStar 24, if I can do my Latin numerals correctly, will double the capacity of the Hughes satellite fleet providing an additional 500 gigabytes per second of capacity over the United States, Canada, Mexico, and countries in South America. It will also give Hughes Net much needed capacity as the satellite operator is maxed out on its current fleet and is losing customers due to competition from, who else, SpaceX's Starlink. Moving on from SpaceX now. The US Air Force has awarded Sierra Space Corporation a 22.6 million US dollar contract for the maturation of the Vortex Advanced Upper Stage Engine, known as VR35KA. The company aims to advance the development of its 35,000-pound thrust upper-stage engine during the 27-month term. Sierra Space has been working on the VR35KA engine design for several years with support from the Air Force Research Laboratory. The company completed a critical design review for the engine in August of last year. The contract provides for leveraging the test data from the first phase three small business innovation component or [inaudible] component, and integrated breadboard engine tests to develop flight weight engine component designs. The contract was awarded as a sole-source acquisition and the work is expected to be completed by October 2025. A British belt weather monitoring satellite was successfully deorbited over the Atlantic Ocean on Friday. This is the first time a defunct satellite has performed and assisted reentry. The European Space Agency satellite called Aeolus was not originally designed for a controlled reentry at the end of its mission, but ESA decided to use what little fuel was on board to steer the vehicle back to Earth. The reentry comes after a series of complex maneuvers that lowered the vehicle's orbit from an altitude of 320 kilometers to just 120 kilometers to reenter the atmosphere and burn up. These maneuvers positioned Aeolus so that any pieces that didn't burn up in the atmosphere would fall within the satellite's planned Atlantic ground tracks. ESA used the mission to gather data for future satellite reentries and to demonstrate best practices in the hope that other space fearing nations and organizations will one day follow suit. The Indian Space Research Organization held a successful launch of its polar satellite launch vehicle on Sunday carrying seven Singaporean owned satellites. The PSLVC56 rocket was launched at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The main payload was the DSSAR satellite designed to image Earth in radar light and was developed jointly by Singapore's Defense Science and Technology Agency and the company ST Engineering. And speaking of Indian space, it's been confirmed that the object that washed up on the beach in western Australia is in fact debris from a polar satellite launch vehicle. Indian space chief says that, "The giant metal dome that was found just north of Perth in mid July is indeed from their vehicle, but it's up to Australia to decide what to do with the space junk." Nice. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has held a static fire test for its 3.35-meter diameter general purpose hydrogen oxygen engine. According to Chinese media, the new 10-ton engine is capable of meeting future needs of new generation medium sized launch vehicles and is suitable for rapid launch of rockets in batches. And there's something about the Voyager missions that makes a lot of space geeks get a little weepy. Myself, included. And I hate to be the bearer of potentially sad news here, but Voyager 2, a space probe that was launched in 1977 to study interstellar space is on a communications pause. NASA says that a series of planned commands sent to the spacecraft on July 21st inadvertently caused the antenna to point two degrees away from Earth. As a result, Voyager 2 is currently unable to receive commands or transmit data back to Earth. Voyager 2 is currently located more than 12.3 billion miles from Earth and is programmed to reset its orientation multiple times each year to keep its antenna pointing at Earth. So, let's hold onto hope here. The next reset will occur on October 15th, which NASA hopes will enable communication to resume. In the meantime, dear universe, a request from this pale blue dot, please look after Voyager 2. And on that sad note, we have come to the end of today's intel briefing, but to cheer you and I up, we've included all the stories we've covered today in our show notes and added a few more for you to read at space.n2k.com.

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Hey T-Minus crew. Every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called Signals in Space, and if you happened 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 in Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.

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Our guest for today's interview is Doug Milburn. He's the cofounder of ProtoCase. Now ProtoCase has moved their space manufacturing under the new brand of ProtoSpace MFG. I spoke to Doug about the new branding, but we began our conversation by asking about how his company got started.

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>> Doug Milburn: So, my business partner and I were both [inaudible] Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and my cofounder was COO over a marine navigation company. We're innovators, and we built stuff, and I was trying to get parts, sheet metal parts, machine parts, et cetera. It was all just a pain, and they're critical to building things. At the innovative level or volume level, most suppliers really weren't interested in our work. What we did, we started up a company and it was what would we dream of? We dreamed of having somebody who would take our jobs, small medium jobs either for innovation and development or for low volume manufacturing. And that somebody would take those jobs [inaudible] fast. So, we built a company called ProtoCase centered around electronic enclosures but quickly became parts and machine parts. And we built fully finished metal, fabricated machine, painted, welded, everything on fasteners, printing on it in two to three days. It was like 2003 when we started, and we're now the name. So, early on before they should have, we've had people in the aerospace industry who would come and buy from us. And it was guerilla purchasing. It was, "Yes, I can buy this with my credit card. I know you're not any approved supplier list," and we didn't have proper quality certifications, whatever else. But they just --for auxiliary items. We weren't going in [inaudible] parts back then. And we built up 35% of our business was in aerospace and despite the fact we didn't check the boxes. What we ended up doing is we said, well let's check the boxes for aerospace customers. So, we became AS9100 certified and then we put in traceability. Traceability systems, defense industry crosses over, of course, so it became [inaudible], Canadian Goods Certified as well. So, all of a sudden, we checked the major boxes for getting in that supply chain. And next thing you know we're 19 of the top 20 aerospace majors buying from us. All the private space people. In fact, our biggest segment is private space. So, we're in what we call traditional aerospace and also in what we call new aerospace. Yes, and we just ended up in those worlds. Six months ago, we soft launched our ProtoSpace MFG division, and what's that about is that we kind of comingled our aerospace and non-aerospace business and so many of our customers and aerospace customers have moved over to the ProtoSpace MFG side of it.

>> Maria Varmazis: My background before I started doing space stuff was in tech so I knew about ProtoCase through that avenue. So, hearing about ProtoSpace was very exciting. The ProtoCase name is so well known. And the turnaround in and of itself is a massive, massive innovation and really something that's really incredible. I don't think that gets appreciated enough honestly.

>> Doug Milburn: What we found is particularly in the new aerospace business, these people, it's do or die for them. They've got to get the rockets going up and if they don't, the money runs out, and the ones that get that, they adopt our technique or adopt their processes and everything just accelerates dramatically. They get to project completion. They got time to do iterations before the project deadlines happen, and it's just game changing.

>> Maria Varmazis: You mentioned the processes. Could you talk about that as well? What those processes are and how that helps speed things along?

>> Doug Milburn: You know, if you look at ordering fast, it tends to be small orders. When I say small orders, everything in aerospace is a small order to manufacturers, right? There's no such thing as volume. Automotive has volume. Consumer have volume. Aerospace doesn't have volume.

>> Maria Varmazis: Boutique.

>> Doug Milburn: Yes. Very boutique. And when you do and you look at ordering stuff for a development project and you need three enclosures or 17 brackets or five machine bearing mounts, or something like that, the manufacturing time in that, and even they get long lead times, there's not much manufacturing time in it. So, what we've done is we've just crunched it down, the idea of manufacturing velocity. The amount of time that you work on it versus the totally lapsed time. We really maximized manufacturing velocity on that end of it. But we can't start that until our customers signed off with a fully detailed solid model and all their specifications. So, trying to get to that and help people get to that, to get to that they need to do design. The design has to embody the manufacturer's constraints such that it can be made without a manufacturer. The manufacturer has to interpret it properly because if they make a mistake interpreting it, you're getting garbage, right? Your design has to be embodied in the final, and we look at that and we go, it's very costly to you the customer if a mistake gets made anywhere because it's delaying you. There's two large routes. Number one is you design in your CAD. You got to put your constraints, and our websites is very, very information rich, and we have everything. Teaching people about these manufacturing processes and what you can do, what you can't, and all the ins and outs to help you get your design right. Once we get a solid model from you, we get it into our system, everything inside, most places, there's a lot of manual operational engineering that goes into making more constructions. Well, if you're doing a small order of parts, that's the dominant cost inside the manufacturer. So, we've automated that all. Once you've got a solid model, basically our operational people, operational engineers they spend time with a customer, making sure design, intents, and constraints are looked after and that you get to a solid model that is right for you and going to make you happy. Once they do it, we use automation. Why do you use automation? Well, it reduces cost, but the dominant thing is that we don't make mistakes. It's about quality. It's not just about getting it fast. It's about getting it right as well, and we can be status quo and we can be S9100 certified, and we can still make mistakes but our quality system covers them. That doesn't help you, right? So, that accuracy of automation every where we can and really getting operational focused and getting you the buyer understanding the constraints and helping you get to a good solid model. We have software called ProtoCase designer, and right now, you can go on there and you can design custom electronic enclosures. You can also make certain sheet metal parts in that. When you make them in that, the constraints are imposed at design time. The design is incredibly easy. You don't have to be a mechanical engineer to use it. And then the design is automatically manufacturable and that software understands and our web servers understand what it is you design so it can get you a quote instantly. So, no waiting two days or three days or a week to get a price and then scratch your head and say not good. Let me cycle again. So, it just completely accelerates everything.

>> Maria Varmazis: We live in the future. I didn't know that was possible.

>> Doug Milburn: It goes right from the engineer's brain into the software right through our plant and FedEx. It's all automated, which is how we handle small jobs, aerospace scale jobs so quickly.

>> Maria Varmazis: I wanted to transition and talk to you a bit about what ProtoSpace's involvement was with the SpacePort America Cup because my understanding is that you guys were a sponsor and that you were working with a lot of the students. So, I'd love to know a little bit more about how you worked with the students, and also kind of what you guys got back from that experience as well?

>> Doug Milburn: Quite a while ago we adopted the University Rover competition. You know, university student competition. A bit parallel. They were building Mars rovers. We helped sponsor the competition. It's not for profit, and we did some direct sponsorship, and we give them several thousand dollars worth of service. So, it's an in-kind sponsorship to the teams. So, we've done the same thing with SpacePort. That was our first year getting involved with it and then actually our involvement wasn't publicized. We got to the game late this year with SpacePort. We're in this for the long game and everything in. So, next year will be the big one for us. But the University Rover has been a real success. And to teach these teams, it's the same thing that our customers have figured out how to change their operations. It's like -- you create a company that's doing rocket science. If your team focuses on rocket science and not on things like -- university teams they'll tend to go, "Okay. Great. Here's our design. Okay. We got to build this now." I'll go to the student shop, and I will become an amateur machinist. Something that I'm not going to be doing in my career, and I'll make amateur parts, and it'll take me a bunch of time because I'm bumbling and fumbling. And what we say to these teams is think about number one, an optimized design and how you're going to get manufactured as quickly as possible. Focus on your core and where you guys add your value, which is designing this and get your team to execute and everything else, and figure out what you can get rid of that is reinventing the wheel. It's been done since 1700. Don't waste your time on that. So, we'd basically train them on that idea of get back to the core. A lot of engineers, they get into that and that carries into groups they're in in their profession, and it's like the student groups that get that, the ones that got that really adopted the whole concept. They get to prototype super-fast, and when they get to prototype, then they get to try it, and then we teach something inside here called project DNA about how to get projects done well. And we talk about known unknowns using experimentation to get through those, and then you go for your prototype. Where it all comes together we call it one of your end end moments, where you put something together that actually works. It's supposed to work. And then the unknown unknowns come out and bite you. And they will not invite them out until you get to your end end moment and try to make that happen. The faster it happens, the sooner you get to know where they are, the better you can wrestle them to the ground and get something that works. And that's true in everything and whether you're private space on the cutting edge of the revolution that's happening there, all those project DNA principles understand why you need to get the prototype as fast as you can, as inexpensive as you can. Why? You're going to fail, and it's about picking yourself up, dusting it off. That's where you go. So, that's what the student competition is all about.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And we'll be right back.

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Welcome back. Now it feels like it was only yesterday when ESA's Euclid telescope was launched. It was actually almost a month ago. July 1st to be precise. And can you believe it, about 30 days later, Euclid is already at its home at La Grange Point two hanging out with the James Webb Space Telescope and ESA's Gaia probe and it just sent back its first commissioning images from both its rear infrared and visual imagers. And my God. It's full of stars. And swirling galaxies and some blobby artifacts from sunlight sneaking in. And even a few errant streaks from cosmic rays, but mostly just an absolute smorgasbord of gorgeous stars. The Euclid telescope will be fully calibrated and ready to start work in about another two months or so. But even just these first calibration images are astounding. The area that this first image is looking at is nearly a quarter of the width and height of the full moon says ESA. Euclid will also help us better understand dark matter and dark energy and if Einstein's theory of general relativity holds up on a super mega massive cosmic scale. But in the meantime, we can also enjoy some gorgeous pictures. A closing quote here from the Euclid project manager, Giuseppe Racca, "After more than 11 years of designing and developing Euclid, it's exhilarating and enormously emotional to see these first images. It's even more incredible when we think that we see just a few galaxies here produced with minimum system tuning. The fully calibrated Euclid will ultimately observe billions of galaxies to create the biggest ever 3D map of the sky."

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That's it for T-Minus for July, 31st, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. 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 Elliot Peltzman and Tre Hester with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

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