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T-Minus Overview- New Mexico.

Welcome to the T-Minus Overview Radio Show featuring conversations with experts from the space industry about New Mexico.



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Welcome to the T-Minus Overview Radio Show. In this program we’ll feature some of the conversations from our daily podcast with the people who are forging the path in the new space era, from industry leaders, technology experts and pioneers, to educators, policy makers, research organizations, and more. 

On today’s program we’re going to focus on the growing space industry in New Mexico. You’ll be hearing from three guests, all with a connection to the land of enchantment.

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T-Minus Guest

Our first guest is NewSpace Nexus CEO Casey DeRaad about her mission to build a bridge between the US military and the commercial space industry. Our second guest is Matt Fetrow from the Space Rapid Capabilities Office in Albuquerque on the Hyperspace Challenge. And our final guest is scientist Alan Stern, principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission, who flew suborbital science missions with Virgin Galactic from Spaceport America.

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T-Minus is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. © 2023 N2K Networks, Inc.

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>> Maria Varmazis: I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the "T-Minus Space Daily" podcast. And you're listening to "T-Minus Overview."

[ Music ]

In this program, we'll feature some of the conversations from our daily podcast with the people who are forging the path in the new space era, from industry leaders, technology experts, and pioneers to educators, policymakers, research organizations, and more. On today's program, we're going to focus on the growing space industry in New Mexico. You'll be hearing from three guests, all with a connection to the land of enchantment. First, I'll be speaking to NewSpace Nexus' CEO, Casey DeRaad, about her mission to build a bridge between the U.S. military and the commercial space industry. Our second guest is Matt Fetrow from the Space Rapid Capabilities Office in Albuquerque on the Hyperspace Challenge. And our final guest is scientist Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission, who will be flying suborbital science missions for NASA with Virgin Galactic from Spaceport America.

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Casey DeRaad is the CEO of NewSpace Nexus. I spoke to Casey about how she started the organization, which was originally called NewSpace New Mexico, and what the mission is.

>> Casey DeRaad: I have a long career with the Air Force Research Lab, working on space systems, and the latter part, working in partnerships with trying to help space industry, space companies be able to navigate and work with the government systems. So that was sort of my career. But I just saw so many challenges for our companies to understand where the resources are, and especially our New Mexico companies. And so hit the early retirement date, jumped out at Air Force Research Lab, and decided to tell the story about the possibilities and the opportunity in space. And at the time, when I first, you know, was working within the Air Force, a lot of the space funding came from the government side. But here, the commercial and the private space industry is really thriving for about, you know, the last 10 years. If you take 2010 and earlier, it was mostly just government funding. So this commercial space, this new space, was coming forward, really expanding. And so the opportunity was there. So we put together, you know, a public-private partnership where we really studied who are all the partners. And we put out a report where we really looked at, here's the opportunity. New Mexico is positioned to take a leadership role with all the various assets we have here between the Space Force organization, White Sands Missile Range, NASA, Spaceport America. Of course, our universities all have great resources in that area. So we're positioned to lead. And so with that, we came up with some strategy where we really need to put together some kind of council, figure out how to do, you know, put a business connector together, a workforce connector, and then also figure out the funding. So, with that, we started an actual non-profit organization. NewSpace New Mexico it started out, that's the corporate name. Right now, we're doing business as NewSpace Nexus. But so we started it basically to do those three things. We put together an alliance. That NewSpace alliance has now grown to over 250 space organizations. We put together that business connecting. We have our, what we call our NewSpace Ignitor program to help companies navigate through the valley of death. And then we also have some great resources. Like we have an open prototyping event workspace called the Launchpad. And the basics of it, although is that we say that we Unite and Ignite space. So, on the Unite side, of course, we have our alliance where we bring people together. But we also do some networking events locally. We call it the T5 Thirsty Thursday Tech Talks, and everyone comes together. And then we also lead national-level forums on the space industrial base. So this is the Unite side, like I said. And I think the key thing about NewSpace Nexus is that we are here to listen to the companies. We bring them together in many different forums. And we really look at like what are the challenges, the gaps, the issues that need to be solved. And then put together, you know, work locally but also nationally with some of our regional partners on, okay, how do we go address this certain area? And what are the recommendations? And who needs to hear these recommendations and put some resources to it? So that's the Unite side. The Ignite side is we have a partnership intermediary agreement with the Air Force Research Lab funded through an appropriation by Senator Heinrich's office. Thank you, Senator. And it basically is a five-year agreement to put together the resources to help the companies Ignite, accelerate faster, their innovation faster. So we have this Launchpad that is this co-innovation, open prototyping. The companies can come work there. We can have events there. And it's a really cool space. You better visit us sometime. It's in Albuquerque near the airport. We also to Ignite is we set up the NewSpace Ignitor program. And that is where we have 23 companies in the program, and they come in at different levels. We basically help navigate. First, you know, do an assessment, help them get their messages clearer, figure out what kind of hardware/software experts that they need. And we help navigate them, we say, through the valley of death. And then the last part of the program is we showcase them. We do what we call show spaces. And we might showcase them to the different funding sources like investor -- our investor network. We have government customers or even other prime contractors that they can partner with. So those are kind of like our two sides of the story that we're just here for the space companies. We don't do it all. But we help either connect them or help represent them to get to workforce, to get to experts, to get to economic development types. And a lot of our companies -- We work nationwide. But a lot of our companies, once they see the resources and the great ecosystem we have here with the various organizations, you know, they want to come here. So they'll -- they'll try and set up. So we just help make that path very easy.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's amazing because you mentioned the valley of death. And that is a phrase that has come up so many times in this podcast that it is, wow, what a painful experience. Yeah, it's really hard. And to have expertise to help guide you through that. And not just that, but before and after. I mean, that's an amazing service to be providing. I know you have some great success stories of companies that you've shepherded through. Are any that you can talk about or tell me about a little bit?

>> Casey DeRaad: There's actually a few that are in the works of getting some funding support. We have -- we just started that Ignitor program in October, and we're tracking, we're at 7.3 million of different contract wins that they've gotten since and because of working with us. So that has been really good. And a lot about the valley, if you think about New Mexico and even when Senator Heinrich wanted to do this appropriation, the key part is like help put resources together, like the Launchpad. But also put together some kind of industry demonstration program that helps them get out of R&D or, you know, beyond R&D because New Mexico is very well known with the different national labs, federal labs that, you know, we have a lot of great R&D. But how do you take these, what we call the concept, so it's in that R&D, and make it to get to a product then get it to sales? And so with that, like some of our companies are RS21, Charles Rath, they've gotten a couple of contracts from our help with that, navigating them to the government customers that they could get a win. O Analytics to Blue Space, Goodman Technologies. I wasn't ready for this one, but we do have a number of wins. And the companies love us because we have this, what we say, our secret sauce is our team, our, you know, our NewSpace Nexus team. We have over 90 years of experience in, you know, military, civil, and commercial space. We have some expertise in strategic sales and product development. And then our engagement team is just the best at putting on events. And like we were one of the first hybrid virtual conferences and then hybrid when things opened up. So our team has this expertise. And then we have a consulting team that we bring on for like, you know, real specific needs that can help the companies. And then after that, we have what's called our Ignitor Expert Network, which we have over 45 people in it now. And it includes, you know, previous commanders of Air Force Research Lab and chief scientists and investors. And so our companies have this wealth of expertise when they come to us that they'll be able to get what they need.

>> Maria Varmazis: That is an incredible amount of expertise in one place to not have to try and scrape that together. That it's there already is quite amazing. And also I should mention, I know you mentioned at the beginning that NewSpace Nexus is also a non-profit. So I'm curious. That is quite a different tactic, quite a different thing from many organizations that I speak to. I imagine that does make you quite unique. Can you talk a little bit about that?

>> Casey DeRaad: Well, I think one of the key things is, you know, the companies see us as part of their team and that we can help, you know, get them through these processes. One of our companies has said, you know, working with us has cut at least a year off of their development cycle because they get to the needed resources faster. But the reason we wanted to do a non-profit is we wanted to -- we want to be this trusted resource to the space companies. And I think they value us. They know that we're, you know, we're not here to compete with them. We're here to help them. And so that's where it's been beneficial to be a non-profit.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Our second guest today is Matt Fetrow from the U.S. Space Force's Space Rapid Capabilities Office. My producer, Alice Carruth, spoke to Matt about what the office does and why it's in New Mexico.

>> 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: My name is Matthew Fetrow, and I'm currently serving as the communications director for the Space Force's Rapid Capabilities Office here in Albuquerque. We're part of the U.S. Space Force, right, which is 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 and purchasing first-of capabilities, things that maybe no one has done before, in a rapid fashion, and getting them out to the field, getting them out to the folks who need those capabilities 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: Yeah, yeah. 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, it was a logical location to go ahead and have the headquarters.

>> Alice Carruth: And how 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 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 role-play 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. It'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 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, 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 -- It 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 of 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 -- with that work. One is sensors in space, right, threat awareness sensors, that would allow us to really tell if something -- 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'd love to find new ideas and new ways to tap into AI and ML and all the advanced software techniques to help -- 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 of something that needs photographed. All 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 those are really the three areas we've identified. But we recognize that, you know, innovative businesses have other ideas for how to help us with our mission, how to protect space assets. And so 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 a company that doesn't have that inheritance with it comes from an aerospace background. 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 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. There, 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 in 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.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Our third guest today is scientist Alan Stern, who is the principal investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission, studying the Kuiper Belt. Alan is also a future Virgin Galactic spaceflight participant. And I wanted to know what the appeal was to fly research on suborbital flights.

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>> Alan Stern: Yeah, I'm very bullish on suborbital experimentation because it's much lower cost and much more frequent than the opportunities to do things in orbit. And suborbital, to me, is a little bit like the minor leagues in baseball. It's used for the development of players and for people to try out new things, new techniques. Because it's more frequent and less expensive, suborbital works great for that. And there are all kinds of different suborbital options. There are NASA sounding rockets, there are commercial vehicles like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, and there are balloons. And the list goes on. I was selected in 2020 by NASA to fly an astronomy experiment and a space physiology experiment on a Virgin Galactic mission. That's going to be in the future after Virgin has flown enough flights that NASA can clear -- can clear that. They want to get a longer track record. But in the nearer future, I'm going to be flying a training flight to get some practice so that when I fly for NASA, I'm not going to be a rookie. And I'm really looking forward to both of those flights to space, expecting that the NASA flight is going to tell us a lot about how good Virgin Galactic's spaceship is for doing astronomy, which is very exciting.

>> Maria Varmazis: That is really exciting. I mean, studying planetary sciences and then also getting to go to suborbital space, that's pretty fantastic. Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you're planning on doing during the flights?

>> Alan Stern: Yeah, absolutely. So, on the first flight, I'm mostly going to be practicing getting around the cabin, stabilizing myself with a mock-up of the camera that we use on the NASA flight, and trying to work out the timing details. Because on these suborbital flights, you don't have much time. It's literally only a matter of minutes that you're up at the top at high altitude. And so the time pressure is extreme. So the training flight is actually being paid for by Southwest Research Institute, that's my employer, through an internal research program. And then, on the NASA flight, we're going to be using an experiment that I put together and was principal investigator of. They flew on the Space Shuttle a number of times to look at the same star fields with the same camera, but through Virgin Galactic's windows instead of the NASA Space Shuttle windows to compare how well Virgin Galactic's windows perform. In flight, with all the little, tiny details of glints off the wing and scratches on the window that just come from the rocket motor exhaust and things like that, we're going to really find out how well it can do. And I'm really looking forward to that because it could open up a lot of possibilities for doing a lot of innovative, low-cost experimentation by ourselves, but also by a lot of other people who today fly more expensive systems. And this is a way that we might be able to get costs down pretty dramatically so we can do more experimentation for the same amount of money.

>> Maria Varmazis: And since that conversation, Alan Stern successfully completed his first suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic's space plane from Spaceport America on November 2nd. Virgin Galactic made its sixth spaceflight this year from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The Galactic 05 mission saw the company's spaceship converted to a suborbital space lab for space-based research. In addition to Alan, the crew also included bioastronautics researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, Kellie Gerardi. Alan and Kellie conducted human-tended research during the suborbital spaceflight. Alan's mission was also a training flight for a future suborbital spaceflight as part of NASA's Flight Opportunities program. Alan used a biomedical harness to collect physiological data related to human spaceflight and conducted practice activities for the astronomical experiment, which will be on the NASA flight. And Kellie flew three payloads, two of which evaluated novel healthcare technologies in microgravity conditions. Her payloads collected biometric data with the Astroskin biomonitoring device and examined how confined fluid behaves to inform future healthcare technologies in space. Super cool science happening at Spaceport America.

[ Music ]

There's a lot happening in New Mexico, so it was hard to choose just three guests. But I think you'll agree, all are doing fascinating things. And our sincere thanks to our guests Casey DeRaad, Matt Fetrow, and Alan Stern for joining us. If you're interested in hearing more about the space industry, join me every day for "T-Minus Space Daily," available on all major podcast platforms. Find out more at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of this show. You can email us at space@n2k.com. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. 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 next time.

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