The good thing with being a generalist is you get to dabble in a bit of everything, which means you’ll always keep getting pleasantly surprised. I’ve been at the fringes of the Space industry for a while now, but learnt a ton of new things today simply by sitting on a panel and listen to a number of pitches. What follows is just a quick brain dumb, not a comprehensive list of all the good things that are happening out there or even of all the good stuff that was presented today, just some nuggets of inspiration.
AFMPD is short for applied-field magnetoplasmadynamic. It’s a type of electric propulsion system that’s been around for ages. In theory it’s great for optimizing payload-to-fuel ratio, but nobody has gotten thrusters built on this technology to work properly. There’s been a renewed interest lately, and teams in Japan as well as in the US are now competing to get this tech into space. Also one team in Stuttgart Germany, with the great name Neutron Star Systems. Its founder and CEO Manuel laRosa Betancourt says it’s now only a matter of time before these type of thrusters will come into the mainstream.
Hydrazine is is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula N2H4. It is a highly toxic, colourless flammable liquid with an ammonia-like odour. It’s also commonly used to launch space craft into orbit. Some people predict that it’ll soon be banned in Europe, but the jury is still out on that. If a ban was to come in place, that would be a great boon for Swedish green propellant maker Bradford ecaps, which powers 103 spacecrafts currently in orbit, and is mostly selling its wares to US customers. NASA says that Bradford ecaps’ green monopropellant is thirty percent more efficient than Hydrazine. Bradford ecaps’s CEO Robert deTry says he doesn’t understand why European launch companies haven’t caught on yet.
The German space industry is concentrated to Münich and Bremen where satellite giant OHB was founded, with esa’s center in Darmstadt being the third hotspot. OHB employs around 3000 people all over Europe. Their Swedish bransch make out about three percent of that, and is based in Kista. It used to be the Space Systems Division of the Swedish Space Corporation, but was sold off to OHB in 2011. It’s operating a satellite which is still in perfect shape after 23 years in orbit. Its CEO Fredrik Sjöberg says that during next year it will be building no less than four new ones, which is far beyond what has ever been achieved previously in Sweden.
Everyone knows space debris is a real and growing concern, but it’s also the perfect example of a tragedy of the commons. No one player has the incentive (or indeed the pockets) to pick up the bill. That might be changing now. Munich based Actlabs are planning to use nanosat-based sensors and machine vision in order to create a detailed situational awareness of debris along very specific orbits. Also Swiss startup Clearspace seem to be gaining momentum in developing their scifi-looking in-orbit gripper, which is meant to function as a high-tech garbage collector.
Ever heard space enthusiasts raving about how this industry is just as much about what’s happening here on earth? Dreamwaves is developing an interesting example of that. They want to become the default audio layer of Augmented Reality, and their product lets blind people navigate by following aural waypoints. You simply follow the sound of music playing, which keeps morphing spatially as the user moves about. Their CEO Hugo Furtado, who has a PhD in medical AR (hos cool is that!) says it’s so good it’s almost like getting your eyesight back. The application (which is next going to help cyclists navigate without looking at their screens), requires a level of spatial precision with would never have been possible without having access to Gallileo’s raw data feed.
Pythom Space has a team roster that fits on screen without scrolling (it includes Swedens first astronaut) and ambitions that would make Elon Musk blush. They’re building and testing *everything* in-house, including avionics. They also don’t have just one product, but three; the Eiger rocket, the Olympus lander and the Pythom spaceship. If in doubt that this outfit if for real, check out founder’s Tom & Tina Sjögren’s track records.
Finnish Reorbit builds connectivity stacks for satellite constellations and is already cash flow positive after four years. Its founder and CEO Sethu Saveda Suvanam says he doesn’t like the term deeptech. In fact he says he doesn’t even think of his company in terms of space tech; they’re simply really good at building software that works. In space.
You remember how Tom Cruise interacts with the minds of the precog’s in Minority Report using a haptic glove? Swedish startup NTENTION is doing something like that, but here and now. I see a lot of shiny tech given my day job, but this was some of the coolest I’ve witnessed in a while.
Lastly, German propulsion company HyImpulse, founded in 2018, aims to address what ESA director-general Josef Aschbacher calls, in a recent interview, a crisis in terms of independent access to satellite launching capabilities. They intend to do so by developing their own hybrid propulsion system, which in theory should mean capturing the best qualities of both monoprop, solid and liquid fuel rockets.
We really are in the middle of space industry’s second wave. Call it NewSpace or call it what you want. However we label it, it’s exciting!