HawkEye 360 booth at new space conference in August 2018. Credit: Shen Ge
With the abundance of new small satellite companies, HawkEye 360 stands out as one that detects radio wavelengths instead of visible light (what your eyes can see). HawkEye 360 plans to create a constellation of at least eighteen satellites in clusters of three that will map and analyze RF signals coming from communications and transportation services. Its applications include identifying transportation activity and logistics tracking, emergency response and rescue efforts, communications interference detection, and spectrum mapping and use.
HawkEye 360 has gathered an impressive team for their initial Pathfinder mission including a university research laboratory, an asteroid mining company and a space communications payload company. University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) has a specialty lab called Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) which has developed and refined microspace technologies for 22 smallsats in the last two decades. Though UTIAS-SFL has been contracted to develop the satellites using the Nemo-V1 satellite bus, the lab is actually a subcontractor for asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI). In addition to being a prime contractor, Deep Space Industries (DSI) is also providing an innovative water-based propulsion system. Meanwhile, HawkEye 360 has collaborated with GomSpace on the RF payload.
A CAD model of a SAS satellite in low earth orbit. Credit: SAS
There are over 5 billion unique mobile subscribers (as of August 2017) in the world. Despite this prevalence, there’s a considerable proportion of the population which lacks this access. The global sphere sees three billion people without access to affordable communication services. Connecting such populations through terrestrial means is a monumental challenge in geographically dispersed regions – Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Sky and Space Global seeks to address the challenge of global communication.
Sky and Space Global (SAS) plans to close the gap in the market between existing satellite communications operators, such as Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar, and land-based mobile networks such as Vodafone, Telefonica, Airtel and Safaricom. Affordable mobile services are critical for the economic and social development of many developing countries.
Sky and Space Global is working on a constellation of 200 nanosatellites of the 3U configuration in equatorial or near-equatorial low earth orbit (LEO) for narrowband communications. The total cost of all the satellites is expected to be $150 million. SAS is the first company to consider using nanosatellites for communication.
Axiom Space plans to develop and build the first commercial space station in the world. Credit: Axiom Space
Axiom Space is a Houston-based company established in January 2016 that plans to build the world’s first commercial space station. Axiom Space plans to launch its first space station in 2020, which will be initially docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is currently funded up to 2024 and when it is decommissioned, Axiom’s orbital module will detach and fly freely on its own. Axiom’s station can house eight passengers. One prominent initial market is space tourists that would each pay $55 million for the adventure. Aside from an eight-day stay in space, this cost covers 15 weeks of training, much of it at the Johnson Space Center, a 10-minute drive from Axiom’s headquarters. Thus far, three entities have reserved for on-the-ground training, which starts at $1 million.
The commercial station's interiors are being designed in partnership with famed French architect Philippe Starck, so they'll be quite a bit different from the utilitarian spaces of the ISS. Mr. Starck lined the walls with a padded, quilted, cream-colored, suede-like fabric and hundreds of tiny LED lights that glow in varying hues depending on the time of day and where the space station is floating in relation to the earth.
A new space startup founded in 2013 in Boston called Accion (pronounced "ax-see-yon") Systems has patented an ion beam technology to propel small satellites. As government-funded large launches give away to commercial small satellite launchers such as Firefly Space Systems, there's a growing need to ensure small satellites have efficient propulsion system requiring little fuel to produce enough thrust. Without propulsion, a satellite has a very limited lifetime -- possibly as shortly as a few weeks. As in conventional ion engines, Accion's propulsion system produces thrust using electric fields to accelerate ions. However, the difference lies in how the ions are produced. Accion uses ionic liquid propellant which is a non-toxic liquid salt stored in passive plastic tanks. Ions leave thruster chips through small holes in grids over each chip and propel spacecraft in the opposite direction. This removes big ionization chambers, pressurized tanks, bulky valves, and external cathodes for neutralization. There are several major advantages with the low-cost hands-off manufacturing process being most touted as significant:
It's modular and can be used in satellites ranging between 2 to 200 kg.
It's flexible since thruster chips can be placed anywhere on a satellite, in any number.
It's more efficient since it has higher thrust-to-mass and higher thrust-to-volume.
It's much less costly since low-cost automated batch manufacturing is used. In one run, they can make 44 thruster chips.
Accion's major competitor in the realm of small satellite propulsion systems is Busek which has a lead of nearly 30 years more experience. However, Accion has said its design ensures a longer operational lifetime than Busek's equivalent.
What company is there that prints 3D objects in outer space? The company is Made in Space. Formed by entrepreneurs Aaron Kemmer (CEO), Jason Dunn (CTO) and Mike Chen (CSO) in 2010 to tackle Singularity University's challenge of creating a project that would affect 1 billion people, Made in Space has grown to be an innovative new space company focused on additive manufacturing -- more commonly known as 3D printing -- in space attracting quite a following (and funding). In the last quarter of 2014, the world's first zero-gravity 3D printer built by Made in Space was launched to, installed on, and operated with no hitch on the International Space Station. In June this year , the first tool ever manufactured in space, a wrench branded with toolmaker name Kobalt, was 3D printed on the ISS at its Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) thanks to Made in Space, which built the AMF, and home improvement giant Lowe's. The entrepreneurs, innovators, and researchers at MIS have developed several devices including tactical 3D printing (TAC3D), extended structure additive manufacturing machine (ESAMM), and vacuum additive manufacturing (VAM). The full extent of what each piece of tech entails is interesting but delves deep into the technicalities so let's take a look instead at the exciting space projects on the horizon for them.
If you think research into transmission gears is yesterday's news, think again. Fallbrook Technologies, a startup company in Austin, Texas, has developed the NuVinci, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology that compared to conventional transmission, provides improved performance and flexibility. This tech can be applied in anything that requires transmission gears which includes bicycles, automotive accessory drives, electric vehicles, lawn care equipment to small wind turbines and beyond.
The originator of this brilliant little design is a man named Donald C. Miller (Don) who was a cycling enthusiast. He wanted to build the fastest bicycle. Despite not having formal engineering training, his self-motivation drove him to not give up until he came across CVT. Though this idea was originally developed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, various problems such as cost, scalability, efficiency and weight have kept CVTs from widespread adoption and limited their practical applications. Don decided to change that.
In 1998, Don and several angel investors formed Motion Systems, Inc. (MSI) to develop this tech. By 2000, he finished filing the first patent and at the end of the year, with new collaborators Miller and the Weiss Group LLC, formed a new company called Motion Technologies LLC. A second financing round in 2003 allowed validation and further development. Robert A. Smithson, a transmission expert, was incredibly impressed that he joined the company as a consultant and later as VP of Product Development before becoming the company's CTO. Thanks to Smithson, a subset of CVT -- the infinitely variable transmission (IVT) -- was discovered. An application in wind energy further excited the team.
On April 13, 2004, Fallbrook Technologies was formed and additional funding and expertise came in. Notably, auto industry veteran Bill Klehm became CEO while Don Miller was shifted to VP of Advanced Research. Two years later, in September 2006, Fallbrook introduced the first commercial continuously variable planetary (CVP) transmission and full production of bicycles in Europe and US began in January 2007.
The global market for energy storage (already 2% of generation capacity in just the US) is growing rapidly with the growth of renewable energy. Solar, wind, and other renewable energy generation are fundamentally intermittent and their aggregate peak output rarely matches that of peak system loads, delivering on annual an average of less than 30% of their rated capacity into the electrical grid. Without energy storage technology, a significant amount of energy produced is simply lost.
Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), based in Santa Barbara, California uses modified railway cars rolling downhill on a specially built track to release energy and off-peak electricity to pull the cars to the top of a hill. The ARES system requires specific topography but its founder and primary inventor, William Peitzke, says ARES uses 100-year-old technology which delivers more power for the same height differential with a round-trip efficiency—the ratio of energy out to energy in—of more than 85%, compared with 70-75% for pumped-storage hydropower (PSH). Furthermore, ARES has a much wider geographic scope than PSH since it does not require water and has far less negative environmental impact (no need for drilling or flooding). Peitzke co-founded the company with San Diego engineer Matt Brown and hired James Kelly, a retired Southern California Edison executive, as CEO. ARES has raised $25 million as of July 2015.
ARES CEO James Kelly said, "The basic concept is how do I move mass with the force of gravity? It finally dawned on us to use 100-year-old technology, and that's electric railroads, and to add modern digital control systems to automate electric railroads for storage."
Francesca Cava, Chief Operating Officer of ARES, said, "Gravity energy storage has been around for a while but no one has thought of combining railway technology with it."
[caption id="attachment_418" align="aligncenter" width="735"] The impact of Q Drum can be 663 million people, or about 10% of the world population.[/caption]
Q Drum is a portable water container developed by South African engineer Piet Hendrikse which allows people in developing countries to easily carry over 13 gallons of water. Water is heavy. The average person can lug up to about 4 gallons (30 pounds) of water. In rural areas of the developing world, many women and children must make multiple trips each day to a river, well, borehole or other water source to collect water for their families. The Q Drum saves them time by allowing them to transport more water in a single trip. It also helps prevent debilitating back and neck injuries caused by carrying heavy loads.
The drum can also transport other things such as foodstuffs and clothes. If some soap and water are added, the drum becomes a portable, manual clothes washing machine. Outside of the developing world, it can be useful in bringing water to those in need following natural disasters.
Q Drum lets people roll a durable donut container along rough terrain. The container has a hole through the middle where a rope is tied that allows even a small boy to pull a fully loaded tank. The linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) means the drum is almost indestructible, lasts 8 years, and has no removable handles or other metal attachments. The rope if lost can be replaced by a leather thong, woven plant, or any other rope-like material.
Firefly Space Systems is a new space company based north of Austin, Texas. At least 25 companies have announced plans to build rockets to meet the growing demand for small-satellite launches since 2014, but Firefly Space Systems does not plan to blend into that pack. Thomas Markusic, Firefly Space Systems chief executive, said, "Think of this as the Model T of rockets, a simple widely used vehicle for getting from point to point, or in this case getting to space."
“When you are riding as a secondary payload on a large launch vehicle, you sometimes have to wait a couple of years and you are subject to the technical specifications of that launch,” said Amir Blachman, Space Angels Network managing director in Los Angeles. “Whereas if you can pay to get a custom launch for a smaller payload, you can tailor the timing and all the other elements of the mission to your specific needs.”
Markusic, a propulsion engineer who worked at NASA, the U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin before founding Firefly, plans to build a family of simple expendable rockets offering dedicated rides for small satellites (under 1000 kilograms) to low earth orbit (LEO). Markusic left his job as Virgin Galactic’s vice president for propulsion in December 2013 to found Firefly because he saw a dearth of launch options for the burgeoning small-satellite market.
Firefly’s initial launch vehicle, Firefly Alpha, is designed to send 400 kilogram payloads into low Earth orbit or 200 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit. The cost of a full vehicle to LEO is currently set at $8 million, and includes features that typically cost extra, such as the separation system and a full re-ride guarantee. Customers will not have to insure the launch, because if the first fails the second ride is on Firefly. Satellites will still need insurance for their own performance. Other launch options include delivering a 120-kilogram payload to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit for $4.95 million, and orbiting 3U CubeSats for about $240,000.
In October , NASA announced the award of fixed-price contracts to Firefly, Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab and Virgin Galactic of Long Beach, California, to provide dedicated rides into orbit for the CubeSats NASA transports under its Cubesat Launch Initiative. CubeSats are small cube-shaped satellites typically sized 10 by 10 by 11.35 centimeters and has a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms. NASA plans to pay Firefly $5.5 million, Virgin Galactic $4.7 million and Rocket Lab $6.95 million for launches scheduled to occur by April 2018.
PJ King, cofounder and COO of Firefly, said the initial target is to field about four vehicles in the first year. If business goes well, King said the number of launches the first year could be up to seven. Assuming continued success, the goal for year two is to produce about 12 vehicles.
UK firm Deciwatt has set out to solve one of the world's pressing problems -- lack of access to electricity -- by a new device called the GravityLight. About 20% of the world population has no access to what's now considered a basic necessity. With a rising population, especially in developing countries, unfortunately, this percentage is expected to remain the same for the next 20 years. Without cost-effective alternatives, most people have to rely on kerosene lamp. A kerosene lamp is a bottle filled with a fuel and lighting with a wick at the top. Kerosene lamps have four major disadvantages:
Breathing kerosene fumes everyday is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.
The cost of kerosene is high relative to the income of the poorest. Poor households often spend at least 10% of their income on this power source -- as much as $36 billion according to the World Bank.
Kerosene lamps are dangerous since the light comes from an open fire. In India alone, 1.5 million people have been burned by kerosene lamps.
The world suffers from carbon dioxide pollution caused by kerosene lamps which is estimated to be about 3%.
A company called Deciwatt proposed a solution via a prototype device called the GravityLight. Unlike other power sources, the device invented by UK industrial designers Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford requires no battery, sunlight, or wind. Its energy source is based on fundamental physics -- gravity. Seconds is all that's needed to lift the 12 kg bag which powers the device. As the weight slowly falls, GravityLight can produce 20 minutes of light.
Riddiford, now 60, a cofounder of London-based product design firm Therefore and now a cofounder of Deciwatt, got the idea six years ago after leaving a meeting with a charity interested in solar tech. “I just sort of had this vision of, well, why can’t you use human power and store it as potential energy rather than in a battery,” he says. Riddiford has a record for innovative devices including the Brinlock Abacus calculator which was the first calculator with number-shaped buttons. He stated that he regrets not having done charitable work overseas in his youth and hopes to make up for it with his light.
In 2013, Deciwatt raised £265,000 on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to fund the tooling, manufacture and distribution of its first 1,000 lights. More recently, in 2015, Deciwatt won the Shell Springboard program, which supports young entrepreneurs with innovative low-carbon ideas. It received £150,000 to help develop the product further and expand into new markets, beating 150 other applicants to take the prize.
Deciwatt says the GravityLight can cost as low as $10 for the owner. The actual price varies across different markets. The price will reduce in the future as mass manufacturing and the increasing efficiency of LEDs drive the cost down. Even with current prices, the owner can see a return on investment after just three months.