Smallsat companies dominate “Lightning Pitch” NewSpace competition

The annual NewSpace Conference by the Space Frontier Foundation will get underway later today in San Jose, California. A highlight of today’s events is the “Lightning Pitch Competition” for NewSpace startups. This takes the place of full-fledged business plan competition that has taken place at some previous conferences. Instead of submitting a detailed business plan and having that plan, and presentation of it, reviewed by judges, each company will give a four-minute pitch about their company to judges during a conference session late Thursday morning. At stake are $30,000 in prizes, including a $20,000 grand prize.

Last month, the competition organizers announced the eight companies that will be participating in this year’s event. More than have are making use of CubeSats or other smallsats, or supporting such spacecraft, in one manner or another. A quick review of the eight contestants follows.

Accion Systems: This company, founded by MIT students and faculty, is seeking to commercialize an electric propulsion system they have developed for CubeSat-class spacecraft. This ion electrospray technology is already being planned for use on some CubeSats, including the proposed student-led Time Capsule to Mars mission. Notable: the company’s team includes MIT professor Paulo Lozano, who is listed as “Intergalactic Space Captain.”

Cubecab: Cubecab, based in Mountain View, California, says it plans to develop dedicated launch services for CubeSats. The company hasn’t released any details about its technical approach, though. The company’s website also doesn’t disclose any information about the company’s team, although the domain name is registered to an Adrian Tymes.

Cuberstation: Palo Alto, California-based Cuberstation plans to provide “dedicated ground services to nano/micro satellite operators” with its own global network. The company says it will operate a network of six ground stations located at high latitudes to provide regular communications with smallsats. (The high latitudes suggests they’re interested in satellites in sun-synchronous and similar polar orbits.) The company describes itself as “a group of young and dynamic individuals coming from a multi-national background of 6 countries” without disclosing their names on the company’s Facebook page (it doesn’t have its own website yet.)

Elysium Space: No, they’re not planning to build a giant space colony so the wealthy can flee Earth; wrong “Elysium.” This San Francisco company plans to get into the “space burial” business by launching samples of cremated remains into orbit within a CubeSat-sized spacecraft. That’s similar to what Celestis has done in the past (with limited success, given the paucity of missions they’ve flown) although Elysium Space plans a modern twist, giving customers a mobile app so they can track their loved one’s location in space. Their first launch is planned for October, apparently as a secondary payload on an Orbital Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS.

Hive: Phoenix-based Hive “delivers small satellites to orbit, en masse, through a patent-pending dispensing module.” That’s it. The release gives no other information about the company, including any website or social media contacts.

RockZip: This company, based in Michigan City, Indiana, develops “highballoons,” or high-altitude balloons. They believe their approach will cost “significantly” under current costs of $1,000-1,500 per balloon, they note on their website, targeting researchers, business, and even the general public.

Space Resources Extraction Technology: The Huntsville company plans to “Microwave the moon to extract water from the polar permafrost to produce rocket propellant for exploration of the space frontier.” Another company without a website, the release instead directs people to do a Google search for “microwave the moon for water,” which turns up, among other entries, a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center press release from 2009 about such an approach being studied by NASA scientist Edwin Ethridge.

Terran Science Group: TSG describes itself as “a collection of expert technical and engineering professionals based in Central Florida that provide high-value solutions to companies working on the cutting edge of their respective fields.” According to the competition announcement, they’re interested in projects “like safe havens on the Earth, moon, or Mars built from local regolith and a big laser!” Their website suggests their interests are even more diverse, although the specific near-term business opportunities appear less certain.

The winners of the competition will be announced at a reception at the end of the day today.

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