These private companies are fueling the space race
Astropreneurship is now a thing, and the competition is heating up.
It may be the final frontier, but the exploration of space has only just begun.
After decades under the auspices of governmental organizations like NASA, space exploration has recently become a part of private industry. Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Google – these are just a few of the companies at the forefront of the drive to make outer space a more approachable place.
But don't forget to look behind the curtain. Astropreneurs – individuals and companies looking to capitalize on this privatization – have emerged in a supporting role and, in some instances, are actually leading the way.
Made in Space: United States
This American company had the privilege of being the first to send a manufacturing device into space. That device? A 3D printer especially designed for use in microgravity. In early April of this year the company celebrated the first anniversary of the launch of the AMF, a zero-gravity, second-generation 3D printer, on the International Space Station. It has thus far made 39 prints for clients, including medical parts and specialized NASA parts.
SpacePharma: Switzerland and Israel
Think of this Swiss-Israeli company as the outer-space version of Israeli-owned company, WeWork. That's because, like WeWork, it is attempting to rent out work space – except these desks are in space. They're doing this with their mGnify lab, which was recently sent into orbit to conduct biochemical experiments in microgravity. The lab will make available – for the first time – space for science experiments. Before, experiments could only be done through the International Space Station, at an enormous cost and with long lead times. Now scientists can rent lab space in space with greater efficiency.
Accion Systems: United States
Accion Systems provides propulsion systems for satellites based on technology developed at MIT. The company is selling miniature electrospray ion engines that generate thrust by accelerating charged particles to very high speeds. In other words, they provide engines to small satellite operators. This is necessary because these small satellites are prone to being eaten up in Earth's orbit within a matter of months. With Accion's solution, they could extend their lifetime from months to years.
Helsinki-based Reaktor is an IT and engineering company that focuses on creating bespoke solutions to problems faced by several industries. Those solutions in recent years have extended all the way to space. The company now makes private satellites for companies with a variety of interests, including detecting oil spills and monitoring crops, and they do it with the utmost thoroughness: They design, manufacture, test, launch and even run the operation.
Axiom Space: United States
This Houston-based startup is set to build the world’s first privately funded commercial space station to replace the International Space Station (ISS), which will retire in 2024. The plan is for Axiom to initially hitch a module to the ISS before becoming a stand-alone station itself. At that point it will be capable of housing up to seven people, whether they be professional astronauts, researchers or space tourists.
Effective Space Solutions: England and Israel
Founded by Arie Halsband, former general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), this company is developing the De-Orbiter, a solution for towing satellites sent to the wrong place. It will operate out of a docking station of the company’s own design and could extend the mission life of a commercial satellite by up to five years.
Planetary Resources: United States
Planetary Resources' mission is no less than to "expand the economy into space." They plan to accomplish this by developing and deploying the technologies for asteroid mining. They've set up a multi-stage plan to accomplish this, starting with probing and exploration, with the ultimate intention being to establish fully automated/robotic asteroid-based mining and processing operations.
Astroscale wants to clean up space. No, really. The company defines its mission as one "to actively contribute to the sustainable use of the space environment by developing ... technologies [that] remove the most threatening debris in orbit." The company has secured millions to advance its research and manufacturing capabilities and plans to test out its active debris removal (ADR) system, ADRAS, in the first half of 2018.
Vector Space Systems: United States
Vector is a startup full of ambition. Its stated purpose: to be a disruptor in the astropreneur industry. It intends to do this by providing dedicated low-cost micro satellites launch and software defined satellites to dramatically increase access and speed to orbit. It's developed the Vector R and the Vector H launchers. The Vector R can place 110 pounds into orbit, while the Vector-H can handle double that weight.
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