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Swan song for Antares 230+.

Northrop Grumman launches its final Antares 230+ rocket. Voyager Space and Airbus to partner on Starlab. US Senate plans to mitigate space junk. And more.





Northrop Grumman launches its final Antares 230+ rocket. Voyager Space and Airbus develop a new partnership to build and operate Starlab. Privateer Space has announced a new module for satellite operators called Pono. Virgin Galactic releases second quarter financial results, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest for today’s show is Matthew Fetrow, Communications Director for the Space Force's Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO). 

You can connect with Matthew on LinkedIn and find out more about Space RCO on their website.

Selected Reading

Northrop Grumman’s NG-19 Launch Marks 10 Years of International Space Station Cargo Resupply Missions- Northrop Grumman

Voyager Space and Airbus Announce Joint Venture to Build and Operate Starlab- PR Newswire

Privateer unveils AI-powered hardware & software solutions to drive future of space operations & data applications- Privateer


Cantwell, Hickenlooper ORBITS Act to Clean Up Space Junk Heads to Full Senate

Space Debris Will Block Space Exploration unless We Start Acting Sustainably- Scientific American

USSF, Johns Hopkins University Debut New Era of Officer PME- Space Force

Allied Command Transformation Advances NATO’s Understanding of Newest Domain – Space- NATO

NASA hears signal from Voyager 2 spacecraft after mistakenly cutting contact- AP

Space Propulsion Market- Markets and Markets 

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>> Maria Varmazis: Last night, on a stunningly beautiful evening at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops, an NG-19 Cygnus cargo resupply mission lifted off to the International Space Station. While the ISS is getting ready to welcome the S.S. Laurel Clark, we say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye to the last Antares 230-Plus rocket.

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Today is August 2, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Northrop Grumman launches its final Antares 230-Plus rocket. Voyager Space and Airbus develop a new partnership to build and operate Starlab. Privateer Space has announced a new module for satellite operators. And our guest for today's show is Matthew Fetrow, Communications Director for the Space Force's Rapid Capabilities Office. Stay with us.

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And now, let's take a look at our intel briefing for today. It was the 19th resupply mission in 10 years for the International Space Station by Northrop Grumman, hence the mission name NG-19, that lifted off from Wallops Island, Virginia, at 8:31 p.m. ET last night. This was the last mission ever for the Antares 230-Plus rocket which is carrying the Cygnus spacecraft named the "S.S. Laurel Clark" after the NASA astronaut who lost her life during the Columbia space shuttle tragedy 20 years ago. Once the Cygnus docks in the Unity module of the ISS, the crew aboard will have over 3,700 kilos, or 8,200 pounds of stuff to unload, new instrumentation for the ISS including a new potable water dispenser system, gene therapy research for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, supplies for the crew, and even digital artwork from over 13,000 students from around the world, and there may even have been some space for frozen treats for the crew, but we're told to keep it on the DL until the Cygnus docks. Anyway, the Cygnus's work isn't done after it completes docking and separates from the ISS. Before it re-enters Earth's atmosphere, it'll be host to NASA's sixth Spacecraft Fire Safety experiment, or SAFFIRE, to learn more about how fire behaves in microgravity. And as I mentioned at the top of the show, this is the last time the Antares 200 series rocket will fly. The discontinuation of the Antares 230-Plus rocket and the entire 200 series was accelerated by the war in Ukraine. For some time, this rocket series was seen as a hopeful sign of international cooperation. This Northrop Grumman-built rocket had its first stage built in Ukraine and its engines made in Russia. While the plan was long-term for Antares to be eventually fully made in America, understandably the war last year sped up that timeline. The next Antares rocket, the 330, will be made by Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace in a partnership that they announced last year. And speaking of the ISS, Voyager Space and Airbus Defence and Space have announced a transatlantic joint venture to develop, build, and operate Starlab, a commercial space station planned to succeed the International Space Station. In addition to the U.S. entity, Starlab will have a European subsidiary to directly serve the European Space Agency and its member state space organizations. Voyager announced earlier this year that Airbus will provide technical design support and expertise for Starlab. The expanded partnership hopes to unite American and European interests in future space exploration. Now, have you ever heard of the app Wayfinder for tracking space debris? Well, the founders are now looking to move beyond the Google Maps of LEO with their next project. Privateer Space has announced a new module for satellite operators called "Pono" which the company says will help make space data available at scale and at a far lower cost than it is today. Pono, which is an edge computing storage machine learning and data transmission module, will be available to satellite operators as a hosted payload. The prototype of Pono is set to launch on a deorbit space tug via a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rideshare later this year. Virgin Galactic released their second quarter financial results yesterday. The space tourism company has enjoyed two successful space flights in the last two month, but made just $2 million in revenue for the quarter with a net loss of $134 million for the same time period. Virgin Galactic says that its cash position remains strong with cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities of 980 million U.S. dollars as of June 30th. The next planned tourism flight from its Spaceport America base is on August 10th. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the Orbital Sustainability Act last week. Known as "ORBITS," the bipartisan bill establishes a first-of-its-kind demonstration program to reduce the amount of space junk in orbit. According to the senators, simply preventing more debris in the future is not enough. That's why ORBITS Act directs NASA, the Department of Commerce, Office of Space Commerce, known as the "OSC," and the National Space Council to publish a list of debris that pose the greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft. The bill calls for NASA to create a program to demonstrate removal of debris from orbit. It also encourages consistent orbital debris regulations by initiating a multi-agency update to existing orbital debris standards applicable to government systems and requires OSC with the National Space Council and Federal Communications Commission to encourage the development of practices for coordinating space traffic which will help avoid collisions that create debris. The bill will now make its way to the Senate floor for a vote, and we've included a piece on space debris and space sustainability from Scientific American in our show notes that adds to this story. Definitely check it out at space.n2k.com. The U.S. Space Force has partnered with Johns Hopkins University to launch classes for officer training programs. The one-year intermediate-level education and senior-level education programs will award students with a Master's in International Policy from the University. U.S. Space Force Brigadier General Timothy Sejba, Commander of Space Training and Readiness Command, says the program represents a significant step forward in the cultivation of military leaders who are not only well versed in space-focused education but also capable of taking on the challenges of the future. While the curriculum specifically addresses the unique needs of the U.S. Space Force, it has an interdisciplinary nature that will ensure that the programs remain relevant to a wide variety of military personnel. The inaugural class of 51 students will be made up not only of Guardians from the U.S. Space Force but also of representatives from every military branch, Department of Defense civilians, and an international student. NATO nations met last month and amongst the topics under discussion was space. At the summit in Lithuania, the Alliance agreed to, quote, accelerate the integration of space into planning, exercising, and executing joint and multi-domain operations in peacetime, crisis, and conflict in order to ensure space effects are coordinated across all domains. Allies also agreed to, quote, enhance the sharing of space data products and services within NATO in support of the Alliance's requirements and defense plans. Now, NATO Allied Command Transformation is currently engaging in multiple space-related initiatives in support of the broader Warfare Development Agenda. In addition to its efforts to develop space domain awareness, coordinate space policy, and encourage interoperability, the Command is a conducting a robust exercise program to further advance NATO space-related tactics, techniques, and procedures and raise the Alliance's understanding of space. And, you know, we shared the sad news on Monday that Voyager 2 was on a communication pause after a series of planned commands that left the spacecraft unable to receive commands or transmit data back to Earth. Well, it seems that the plucky vehicle has already managed to send a signal back to Earth. Hooray. NASA says that its deep space network of giant radio antennas picked up a heartbeat signal, meaning the 46-year-old craft is alive and operating. Full communication with the vehicle is not expected, as we said earlier, until October, at the earliest, when NASA has a planned automatic spacecraft reset. We just hope that Voyager 2 keeps on beating till then.

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And that concludes our intel briefing for today. You can find links to all the stories we've covered today in our show notes at space.n2k.com. Hey, T-Minus crew, if you find this podcast useful, do us a favor and share a five-star rating and 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.

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Our guest for today's episode is Matt Fetrow, Communications Director for the Space Force's Rapid Capabilities Office. Our producer Alice Carruth spoke with Matt about a new program to connect small businesses to the needs of the Space Force.

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>> Alice Carruth: Matt, thank you very much for joining us on T-Minus. Can you explain to me what it is you do at the Space Rapid Capabilities Office?

>> Matthew Fetrow: Sure, sure. So we're part of the U.S. Space Force, right, which is the third service -- I'm sorry. It's the sixth service in the military in the United States, and we're what is called one of the "acquisition organizations." We're one of the groups that essentially buys things that the Space Force needs. That could be satellites. It could be ground systems. It could be software. And our specialty at the Space Rapid Capabilities Office is really working in purchasing first of capabilities, things that maybe no one's done before, in a rapid fashion and getting them out to the field, getting them out to the folks who need those capabilities, get out super quickly.

>> Alice Carruth: So you're located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Can you explain to me a bit about why the Space RCO is based in New Mexico?

>> Matthew Fetrow: So our headquarters is in Kirtland, in Albuquerque, and there's a long space and technology and innovation history in Albuquerque. There's been a research laboratory. You've probably heard of Sandia National Labs. It's in Albuquerque as well, and there's a lot of space force and just space innovation happening in New Mexico and in Albuquerque. And so when Space RCO stood up about four years ago now, that was the logical location to go ahead and have the headquarters.

>> Alice Carruth: And have you found that to be an advantage to procurement for the Space Force?

>> Matthew Fetrow: Well, it's an advantage because we can tap into a rich pool of talent, a lot of talent in Albuquerque across the base and across the industry as well. It can be a little bit of a challenge because, as you may know, a lot of the space work happens on both coasts, right? California, Florida, those places. So there's a little bit of travel involved, but it's really great to be able to tap into the talent that New Mexico provides.

>> Alice Carruth: Can you tell us a little bit about the projects that Space RCO is working on at the moment?

>> Matthew Fetrow: We're kind of a unique acquisition organization because we work on, frankly, whatever the Space Force needs. We don't have like a standard set of, you know, things we're always doing. So we're working right now on about a dozen different kinds of programs and they range from space systems to ground systems, you know, hardware/software-focused, and most of them right now happen to be focused on essentially capabilities that help protect space assets, right? Making sure that space is a sustainable and secure space for all, and so we're part of that mission.

>> Alice Carruth: Let's do a bit of roleplay here. I'm a new space startup and I'd really like you to start procuring from me. How do I go about working with Space RCO?

>> Matthew Fetrow: So we've got a bunch of different ways that we are trying to reach out to businesses and learn about their innovations and get them to be part of our team, probably half a dozen. One obvious one is just reach out to us, right? Our innovations mailbox, for example, it should be out there on the web, easy to find, and just tell us about your idea, right? We try to keep up with all the companies, but there's so many new businesses, so many new ideas, and particularly in commercial space, that please reach out to us and let us know. We've also got programs like our Hyperspace Challenge that we're working on with AFRL. It's their challenge, we're participating this year, that's really an intentional set of programming to go out and seek businesses, right, that may have products, services, you know, in areas of interest to us and figure out how to grow those relationships, you know, more rapidly than would otherwise happen.

>> Alice Carruth: So you've mentioned the Hyperspace Challenge that's coming up, and we have spoken to Kathy from the team over there. What started that partnership off? What is it that really attracted you to that Hyperspace Challenge?

>> Matthew Fetrow: Well, Hyperspace Challenge has been going on for quite a few years now with the Space Force and the Air Force before that and it's shown to be a really great way to build relationships quickly. You know, it's a -- I think it came from the idea of a business accelerator or startup accelerator in its early years, but now it's more really a partnership accelerator, looking to figure out how these conversations, which can be pretty complicated between technologists and businesses and government folks, how can we have those conversations quickly, move to the next steps, right, and decide and figure out if there's, you know, value there for both organizations. And so when Hyperspace Challenge this year was willing to work with Space RCO and some of the kinds of companies that we need to tap into, we were just thrilled to use that model of a partnership accelerator to try to, you know, advance our business.

>> Alice Carruth: So they've just recently opened up this challenge for the fall of 2023. Can you tell me a little bit about what it is you're looking for and what kind of companies you're hoping to work with?

>> Matthew Fetrow: There's a couple things that I wanted to relay. You know, first is really kind of what the problem is itself, right? We're really, again, looking to further, we think, might be more programs coming our way related to protecting space assets. So what does that really mean? Well, we've identified three areas that we think are critical to help us with that work. One is sensors in space, right? Threat awareness sensors that would allow us to really tell if something was going on. We're doing some of that work already. In fact, we launched some threat awareness sensors back in January, but again, more advanced ideas for how to do that would be really, really valuable. A second piece is software, you know, software that helps the Space Force team make decisions, parse through data. We love to find new ideas and new ways to tap into AI and ML and all the advanced software techniques to help that. And then third, and perhaps less obvious is, a lot of things surrounding protecting space assets might involve maneuver of satellites, right? Moving satellites around, maybe moving to safer locations, maybe going to move over and take a photograph or something that needs photographed. All of that maneuver, you know, is hard to do in space because fuel is a very, you know, prized quantity, and so we're really looking for advanced propulsion techniques, maybe even refueling ideas so that we can have more freedom of maneuver up in space. So, sorry, that was super long, but those are really the three areas we've identified, but we recognize that, you know, innovative businesses have other ideas for how to how to help us with our mission, how to protect space assets. And so I'll finish with, it's super exciting to think about what might come from even folks that aren't even working in space right now, other aligned markets, I've been calling them, things like automotive or mobility solutions, maybe mining, something like that. There's probably some good ideas in those aligned markets as well that we'd love to hear from.

>> Alice Carruth: So you're starting off in a completely different area and thinking "I want to go into space." How do they even go about coming in and approaching companies like Space RCO or others to really start off in the aerospace business?

>> Matthew Fetrow: It's a bit of a long journey. I wish it was easier, right? But as we've learned from some of the more successful companies, it does take years to get products and services fielded in space to be tested and whatnot. So I don't want to -- I don't want to sound like it's super easy, but I think it all stems from really providing a vision for what that new product or service might provide in terms of value, right? What is that new way of doing things, that new proposition that we're offering, because I think that'll attract a lot of investment. It could attract a lot of government interest as well, like for my organization and others, but it is going to be a long journey. I guess the other piece I'll finish with is, have conversations, you know. A lot of lean startups suggest you've got to talk to lots and lots and lots of potential customers. That's sort of a business framework that's often used and I think it's true. So we're thrilled to be talking to these companies, but I'd encourage them to talk to other commercial companies and other government customers as well.

>> Alice Carruth: So aside from the Hyperspace Challenge that's coming up this fall, how else can companies come and interact with Space RCO in the future?

>> Matthew Fetrow: So we're at trade shows. They're, again, happy to reach out to our innovations mailbox. We're also working with our partners at other parts of the U.S. government, so folks like the Air Force Research Labs, who are always out, not only just scouting technologies, but are actually funding the development of technologies as well. SpaceWorks is another organization, and DIU, that are doing all of these sorts of tech development and tech scouting efforts. So I would encourage companies to look at those partner organizations as well because we talk to them all the time. I expect they'll be at this upcoming Hyperspace Challenge, all those organizations, because it's really one Space Force team looking to help companies grow, help the U.S. economy, and, of course, help the Space Force from just different angles.

>> Alice Carruth: Is there anything you really want to cover to help people figure out how to work with the Space RCO?

>> Matthew Fetrow: Well, I guess I would encourage companies to, you know, for right now, you know, our best, most outward-facing effort is Hyperspace Challenge. So please check out the website. Take a look at the problem statements. If you've got ideas, you know, sign up to be part of the Ask Me Anything webinars which are coming up in mid-August, I believe, and let's just look for ways to continue the conversation and see if we can create value for each other.

>> Alice Carruth: Matt, thank you so much for joining me on T-Minus Space.

>> Matthew Fetrow: Thanks so much for having me.

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

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Welcome back, everyone and, okay, we're a little late on the Barbenheimer hype train. Now, I've seen both the films and enjoyed them. They're very different films, but they're great. In any case, the amazing team at collectSPACE had some really interesting Barbie and space trivia that caught our attention this week. Apparently, while Barbie's toy company, Mattel, sent two Barbies officially into orbit to the ISS in 2022, the collectSPACE team has their sources and their ways and spoke with one Steve Denison who was a space shuttle payload training engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in 1989, and Denison says Barbie actually flew on a Department of Defense mission, STS-38, with a still-classified payload back in 1990, and he would know because it's his Barbie. In his interview with collectSPACE, Denison says he and his fellow instructors would stash Barbie in random unexpected places in training simulators to surprise and delight the astronauts, and after some time of doing that, the crew kind of took a shine to the Barbie and made her their mascot for STS-38. And so Barbie was aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, spending nearly five days on orbit, and the wife of one of Dennison's fellow instructors even made Barbie an orange jumpsuit and everything, and yes, there is a picture of zero-G Barbie floating in front of a shuttle window with Earth in the backdrop, and it's one of the few photos publicly available from this still-classified mission. Four of the five crew from the mission even signed a photo of spacefaring Barbie for Denison and the inscriptions are really great. One of them says, "Where's Barbie? We need her for the next mission." The hilarious part to me is that Mattel themselves didn't even know about their own doll going to space for another two years, and the pioneering STS-38 Barbie is still safely at Denison's house. Denison wants people to know that while the two Barbies at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia may have a little placard saying that they are the first two Barbies to go to space, there's a little asterisk there. They're actually the first two Barbies to officially go, but indeed, there was one Barbie girl who was out of this world decades before.

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That's it for T-Minus for August 2, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We love to know what you think of our podcast. You can always email us your feedback at space@n2k.com or submit a 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. NK2'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 Tre Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

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