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Astronaut, crew, or spaceflight participant?

The FAA and DoT propose new rules for government and commercial space launches. Northrop and Lockheed share SDA Tranche 2 Transport Layer contract. And more.





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The FAA and DoT propose new rules for government and commercial space launches. The Space Development Agency selects Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the Tranche 2 Transport Layer contract worth $1.5 billion. Axiom Space secures $350 million in its Series-C round of growth funding, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Andrew Williams, External Relations at the European Southern Observatory.

You can connect with Andy on LinkedIn and learn more about the European Southern Observatory at their website and the Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference, or CPS at their website.

Selected Reading

Federal Register:: U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act Incorporation 

Northrop Grumman Selected to Build Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Beta Data Transport Satellites

Lockheed Martin Selected to Deliver 36 Small Satellites to Advance Space Development Agency's Communications Network- PR Newswire

Axiom Space Raises $350M at Series-C Close with $2.2B+ in Customer Contracts

Sierra Space and Redwire Partner to Bring In-Space Biotech Facilities to Customers via the Sierra Space Platform- Sierra

US Intelligence Community warns of cyber threats to space systems. 

Intelligence Agencies Warn Foreign Spies Are Targeting U.S. Space Companies- The New York Times

Russia's first lunar mission in 47 years smashes into the moon in failure- Reuters

Visit of the Mauritius Minister to ISRO enhanced the scope of India-Mauritius space cooperation- ISRO

Dr Sherif Sedky Reappointed as EgSA CEO- Space in Africa

The Spirit of Camp David: Joint Statement of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States- White House

NASA spacecraft reunites with Earth after 17-year trip around the sun- The Washington Post

Why startups are investing millions to make drugs and semiconductors in space- CNBC

Bezos’ Blue Origin Methane Emissions Were Spotted by the Space Station- Bloomberg

BAE Systems wins DARPA contract to develop next-gen airborne signal processing technology- Shephard

Canadian space agency shares ‘Moon Crater’ picture, but it has roads, buildings

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>> Maria Varmazis: In the US, an astronaut is defined as a person who is trained to go to space. It's a pretty broad term that has been used since the early NASA Human Spaceflight Program. But as we see more people fly on commercial spacecraft, the term is being scrutinized. So question for you. If a person who has been trained by NASA reaches the US definition of space 50 miles above sea level on a commercial carrier, is that person still an astronaut? Or are they part of a space crew? Or are they a spaceflight participant? It might sound very pedantic, but words matter.

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>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus 20 seconds to LOA. Go for the floor.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is August 21st, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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The FAA and DOT propose new rules for government and commercial space launches. The Space Development Agency selects Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the Tranche 2 transport layer contract. Axiom Space secures $350 million in its Series-C round of its growth funding. And our guest today is Andrew Paul Williams, external relations lead at the European Southern Observatory. Stay with us.

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Let's take a look at our intel briefing for today. The Federal Aviation Administration and the US Department of Transportation are proposing new rules that essentially take what's been happening, for the most part, and hardened them as requirements. The proposed rules formalize the roles for government astronauts on commercial space launch vehicles closing some gaps and, frankly, some weirdness due to finicky legislative language, including a situation where NASA astronauts could not be considered crew or a spaceflight participant on a commercial spaceflight because they are federal employees and not employees of the commercial spaceflight company. The updated rules would require that missions that have government astronauts aboard be able to perform safety-critical tasks and allow those astronauts to provide mission training for onboard crew on the aforementioned safety-critical tasks. Essentially, this rules update is trying to carve out plenty of space to let NASA astronauts do the job they were trained to do on a commercial spaceflight. And the proposed changes would make what's been convention, like NASA astronauts providing safety critical mission training for commercial crew missions are a part of a more of a hard rule going forward. And if you've comments to send into the FAA about this one, you've got a bit of time to send them in. The deadline for all comments is October 17th. We'll the proposed regs on regulations.gov where you can send your comments in our show notes.

The US Space Development Agency has selected Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to design and build 72 data transport satellites for the latest generation of its low Earth orbit Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, otherwise known as PWSA. The contracts are worth a total of $1.5 billion. The award is for the SDA's Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta, a constellation the US military is building to provide encrypted communications through a fleet of hundreds of satellites. Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman will each build 36 satellites in this latest agreement. Lockheed's contract is worth $816 million, and Northrup's is worth $733 million. Both companies have received awards for earlier Tranche Layers as part of the SDA's constellation. The Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta is scheduled to begin launching by September 2026.

Axiom Space has announced that it has secured 350 million US dollars in its Series C round of growth funding, bringing the total funds raised to over $505 million from investors and achieving more than $2.2 billion in customer contracts.

Saudi investors Aljazira Capital led the Series C round for the commercial space station developer. The company's first module is currently under construction and is scheduled to launch to the ISS by 2026. Axiom Space is second to SpaceX for the most amount of money raised by a private space company in 2023 based on available data.

Sierra Space and Redwire have announced a partnership to collaborate on commercial, pharmaceutical and biotech R&D and manufacturing in lower Earth orbit. For the partnership, Redwire will deliver biotechnology and manufacturing technologies that will be integrated into Sierra Space's LIFE or large integrated flexible environment habitat platform. The companies hope that the partnership will enable commercial breakthroughs for pharmaceutical drug development and human health research.

Quite a notice went out on Friday from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, a/k/a the FBI, the National Counterintelligence and Security Cetner or NCSC, and the Office of Special Investigations or AFOSI. Commercial space companies, they said, you're a prime target for cyber espionage. And the response from the space industry may have been a little like well, tell me something I don't know. But the warning is worth paying attention to, of course. Intellectual property theft is the major concern, said the bulletin, but space systems themselves are also in the crosshairs.

From the bulletin itself, here's a note on the risk to the space sector. Foreign intelligence entities recognize the importance of the commercial space industry to the US economy and national security, including the growing dependence of critical infrastructure on space-based assets. They see US space-related innovation and assets as potential threats as well as valuable opportunities to acquire vital technologies and expertise. Foreign intelligence entities, or FIEs, use cyberattacks, strategic investment, including joint ventures and acquisitions, the targeting of key supply chain nodes and other techniques to gain access to the US space industry.

We thought we'd be leading with the story of Russia's soft landing on the moon that was planned for today, but unfortunately, the Luna 25 failed over the weekend. The Russian Space Agency lost contact with the vehicle on Saturday. Roscosmos released the statement saying that, "the apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the moon." Yes, the vehicle crashed. Did we mention that space is hard? Russia has set up a special interdepartmental commission to investigate the reasons behind the loss of the Luna 25 craft.

All eyes are now on India's Chandrayaan-3 vehicle as it attempts to soft land at the Lunar South Pole on Wednesday. Chandrayaan-3 has established communications with its predecessor vehicle on the lunar surface and sent back images of the far side of the moon in the last 24 hours.

And speaking of India, their Space Research Organization known as ISRO posted a delegation from Mauritius lasts week to discuss furthering space cooperation between the two nations. The delegations discussed a proposed India Mauritius microsatellite designed for remote sensing from low Earth orbit. ISRO also plans to provide training for Mauritius spanning three key domains, satellite construction, operation and data application.

The discussions also encompass the creation of an innovative India Mauritius space portal designed to host satellite data, geospatial layers and supplementary value added services. Mauritius has hosted ISRO ground stations for some 30 years.

Egypt's president has extended the tenure of Dr. Sherif Sedky as the chief operating officer of the Egyptian Space Agency. Dr. Sedky was first appointed in the role last year. And during his time as CEO he has overseen the launch of the Horus-1 and 2, entered into various beneficial agreements with foreign partners and is on the way to launching the MisrSat 2.

And we mentioned last week that the US President would be hosting the leaders of Japan and the Republic of Korea at Camp David to inaugurate a new era of trilateral partnership and that space was expected to be on the agenda. Well, the White House statement following the event stated that the countries planned to further enhance trilateral dialogue on space security cooperation, particularly regarding threats in the space domain, national space strategies and the responsible use of space. No further details were released on the specifics of what was discussed or what would be discussed in the future.

NASA's STEREO-A has completed a 17 year journey around the far side of the sun. The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory Spacecraft was closest to the Earth last week since its launch in 2006. The vehicle and its sister craft STEREO-B had been generating a 360 degree view of the sun by observing the star from two vantage points as they circled it on orbits that diverged from the Earth in opposite directions. STEREO-B's mission ended in 2018, but STEREO-A has outperformed its initial mission by two years. And NASA says it will be used to perform new research on the sun aided by newer satellites that have been developed since its launch.

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And that concludes our intel briefing for today. We've included links for further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in this episode in our show notes. And as always, we've included a few extras for you. One of them is a CNBC article on startups, investing and making drugs and semiconductors in space and another's on blue origins methane emissions. You can find all these stories and more at space.n2k.com.

And hey T-Minus crew, we have a new survey out. It's one big important question. What new feature do you think we should add next? The link is at the top of the show notes. We would greatly appreciate your feedback. And as always, you can also email us at space@n2k.com. Thanks, crew.

And every Monday, a reminder that we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called Signals in Space. 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 in Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.

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Our guest today is Andrew Williams, external relations lead at the European Southern Observatory. Andy is also the coleader of the policy hub of the International Astronomical Union's new center, the Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference, or simply CPS. I started off by asking what's been going on with Satellite's Constellation's impact on astronomy.

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>> Andrew Williams: There were different ways to mark how the space age is progressing. I think one that is interesting for this conversation happened in 2017. There was a launch by the Indian Space Research Organization that broke the record for the greatest number of satellites launched in one go, 104 satellites on a single rocket. And this to me really marked the start of the so-called mega constellation era. And now we see an exponential increase in the number of satellites being launched, largely due to several private companies. So we've gone from a situation of several thousand satellites in orbit in 2017 to something like 8,000 or so active satellites, 5,000 of which are in low Earth orbit. And it's increasing all the time.

Now these satellite constellations, I mean, they're providing many, many benefits. But one of the negative externalities let's say is the impact on astronomy. So all these satellites are in low Earth orbit, very close to the Earth, and the sun is able to reflect off them and shine back down to Earth. So any astronomer looking in their telescopes in this region of space, they will start to see bright streaks from these satellites. And this is a completely new situation that we haven't had to deal with before.

Astronomy observatories, you know, we're typically planning and building this things over long periods of time. So we're in a situation now for the current set of observatories, you know, which were conceived maybe 10 to 20 years ago with an expectation that the sky would be clear. And now we're facing the issue that actually it's not going to be the case. And there's potentially going to be thousands of satellites overhead any one time. So this is a new issue which we now have to deal with.

And it's not just ground-based astronomy. So if you think about the Hubble Space Telescope, it's actually in low Earth orbit, and you know, in certain configurations, it's looking through the shell of existing satellites. So now, these new satellite constellations are also affecting space-based observatories. So this is another issue that- that we have to consider.

>> Maria Varmazis: Not that that's a minor, but it's just the optical interference. There's also radio interference, isn't there?

>> Paul Williams: Yeah, exactly. So in the era before satellite mega constellations, radio observatories could find a remote region of the Earth. They could negotiate with the local authorities and create what's called a radio quiet zone around that observatory and essentially ban certain types of emissions from taking place. And it would create a very, very radio quite site for the radio observatories.

Now we're facing a whole new era where there's potentially thousands and thousands of satellites overhead, and they're emitting their signals, you know, their electronic devices. And all electronic devices emit unintentional or unintended electromagnetic radiation just by virtue of their physics. This type of radiation, even though it's very weak, it can actually be picked by radio observatories which are usually extremely sensitive in order to detect the faintest of cosmic signals.

>> Maria Varmazis: Satellite constellation provider, makers, I know they're aware of this issue. What are they doing about this? Do they feel some responsibility to mitigate this? Are they already actively working towards solutions? Or where do we stand on that?

>> Andrew Williams: So as soon as the first Starlink satellites were launched, which was in May of 2019, because they were so bright in the sky and they were so kind of spectacular in a way, you could see this train of very, very bright stars moving across the sky. The astronomy community, you know, immediately started to express some kind of outrage. And actually, several of the companies got in touch with the astronomy community, and we formed a dialogue on how to fix this. And we saw some public statements by the leadership of the companies, you know, that they were going to try to avoid the impacts on astronomy. So since then, companies, particularly SpaceX, they have made in a series of experiments to try and find a solution to the reflected sunlight problem.

So first they tried painting their satellites dark and just putting dark paint on it. And that unfortunately didn't work because it caused a thermal issue with the satellite and actually caused the satellite to break down. They then tried an idea to put sunshade on the satellite so it's a little flap that unfolds once the satellite's deployed, and it blocks the sunlight being reflected. And that was fairly successful. But it started to cause problems with the intersatellite links between the satellites.

So, SpaceX tried a third solution which they actually just launched earlier this year, and this is to create what's called a dielectric mirror, so it's a mirror that reflects light only in one particular direction. So at some viewing angles, you know, it's a mirror, it's going to be extremely bright. But at the majority of viewing angles, it's going to be almost invisible to the naked eye. So this appears to have been successful.

So we have to find a brightness limit that we want. It's a- it's called the visual magnitude, and we have to find a value of seven, which is just below the threshold of what your eye can actually see. So they've more or less managed to achieve that, so that is very promising. They're offering to now share this technology with other satellite operators.

And they are beginning to look at the radio emission problem. But this is great, but the thing is is that SpaceX is a very different company from other space companies. So, you know, they are highly verticalized. They manufacture most of the components of their satellites. They build the satellites. They build the rockets. You know, they own the whole N to N process. So it's relatively easy for them to kind of iterate on this design. And they probably have more resources than maybe some other companies.

So of course, our concern is that other operators won't necessarily be able to replicate the same level of mitigations that SpaceX has done. Which is why in the long run, we are looking to encourage governments and space policy makers to codify this industry best practice that we're- that we're looking in collaboration with SpaceX. We're looking to codify this in some kind of launch licensing process or impact assessment procedure that happens when space projects are launched.

>> Maria Varmazis: In many cases, we don't know where satellites always are. It's not always easy to say, you know, we know where they're going to be at one time.

How would one coordinate with all those satellite provider? I mean there are a lot of different players here. What are some best practices that maybe a satellite provider should be thinking about when this policy still doesn't exist yet? What should they be doing?

>> Andrew Williams: Yes, that's a great question. So it's, you know, it's fine to collaborate with one company. But when you have 20 or 30 or 100, it starts to become quite difficult for the astronomy community which, you know, is not necessarily as well-resourced as space industry.

So some- some best practice that we're now seeing is that the- the operators need share the what's called the two-line elements, the ephemerides so the real time positions of their satellites and the predictions of where they're going to be in the future. And, you know, there's various ways that they can do this.

So currently, SpaceX for example are using a service established by a nonprofit CelesTrak, and you know, the astronomy community you can simply go on to this website and collect the TLEs. The problem is that the sensitivity required for the astronomy community is actually much greater than the companies are willing to publicly release at the current time. So I guess there's some commercial sensitivity or maybe a security aspect in really showing this real time data.

But at least what we can get from this is a kind of satellite weather map. So even though we don't know the- the absolute precise location of the satellite. We know approximately where the- the regions of high density will be. So we can make a kind of a satellite weather map and be able to plan observations around that.

With the growing number of companies, the growing number of private operators, it's becoming really important to coordinate and manage all the space traffic. So there's a lot of ongoing work on, you know, space traffic management systems and the technical and kind of political means to do that. So we as the astronomy community are trying to vacate ourselves as part of this overall picture such that in the end, you know, if there's an international space traffic management organization, for example, or some kind of technical which can do it, we will then be able to benefit from this system when it's produced.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. Now, have you ever screwed up at work and had the whole world notice? No? Then spare a thought for the social media manager at the Canadian Space Agency responsible for sharing an image of the moon with roads on it. And no, they weren't sharing ACGI image of what they expect the moon to look like in the future. The post went out on that social media platform formerly known as Twitter and stated that the image was of a 108 million year old Tycho crater in the moon's southern hemisphere. But eagle-eyed observers were quick to notice something odd about the crater, namely a structure and a road leading to it. Hmm, now, did we miss something about ongoing development on the moon, or perhaps that wasn't really Tycho? Indeed, it turned out that the social media manager had in fact shared a photo of the Barringer Meteor Crater located in Arizona, not the moon.

Now look, we get it, our producer Alice lives in the desert Southwest and will attest that the area does resemble the moon. But when in charge of a space agency's messaging, one should always cross check the source of your photograph. Lesson learned for the social media team in Canada. I'm sure after many, many, many respondents on social media pointed out the error.

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That's it for T-Minus for August 21st, 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 our show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry.

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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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