7 mins read 26 Oct 2021

Space Machines Announces new partners for first Optimus Launch

Space Machines Company have announced they have four new customers for their first launch of the Optimus Space Transport vehicle in 2022.   

Space Machines Company have signed up a further four customers for their planned demonstrator launch of their Optimus platform in 2022. The Optimus-1 will be the first orbital transfer vehicle for the company. Credit: Space Machines Company.

Four Australian Start-ups have been added to Space Machines Companys’ (SMC) growing list of customers for the launch of its Optimus demonstration platform in 2022.  The organisations include Spiral Blue (who are providing the onboard computing for space imagery), Esper Satellite Imagery, which specialise in hyperspectral imagery, Internet of Things (IoT) Provider, Dandelions and robotic arm company, Sperospace. 

“We are excited to announce the partnerships with each organisation as we continue to strengthen Australia’s sovereign capability while collaboratively working together to launch Optimus successfully, “ said Space Machines Company founder and CEO, Rajat Kulshrestha. 

SMC are continuing to secure partners for their first demonstrator launch next year, with companies including HEO, Fireball International and CSIRO having already signed up. 

“Securing strong partnerships with Australian start-ups for our launch in 2022 is a huge milestone for Space Machines Company and our partners as these relationships are built on trust and collaboration. Together, we are able to address a growing need for in-orbit logistics and in-orbit services in Australia and at an international level,” said Kulshrestha.

SMC feel that their success in securing these partnerships vindicates the need for a rideshare vehicle such as the Optimus platform. 

“It has been forecast that annual smallsat orders will expand nearly 30-fold by 2023 compared to the pre-2020 historical average, representing a significant global opportunity. Many of these payloads will be delivered to space on ride-share missions, but will need in-orbit transport to reach their final destination,” said Kulshrestha of the growing market. 

SMC also hopes that the proposed changes to the regulatory environment in the form of the Technology Safeguard Agreement (TSA - which is currently under development between Australia and the US) will create more opportunities for Australian companies to work with the US market. The TSA, which was announced in July this year, will set out principles under which US companies can collaborate with Australian firms on local launch projects, knowing that sensitive US technology and data will be protected. 

A space observation partnership

A prototype of the Esper Satellite imager payload mounted on a test platform. Credit: Esper Satellites.

Esper Satellite Imagery and Spiral Blue have combined efforts to test a new approach to producing high definition satellite images and transmitting them to Earth. Esper uses hyperspectral imagery to gather images in wavelengths that allow the analysis of materials compositions, from minerals to plants.  

Spiral Blue uses AI and Edge computing, a platform that processes data in the satellite itself, thus resulting in less bandwidth required for transmission, enabling images to be sent to Earth faster. The two technologies combined can transform how space images help in areas such as agriculture, mining, natural disaster management and environmental controls.

“The launch with Space Machines Company will help us demonstrate our technology in space, allowing us to access domestic and international market opportunities for new space image applications,” said Spiral Blue CEO Taofiq Huq.

“We figured that if we could do that processing on the satellite itself, we would be much more efficient with the satellite downlink and therefore increase the satellite's capacity, [which should] reduce costs for information, improve accessibility and reduce lead times,” added Huq. 

“This mission, in particular, will have a key focus on the Agriculture and Forestry industry while also covering other industries Esper currently serves,” added Shoaib Iqbal, Esper CEO. 

According to Iqbal, Esper started as a spin-off of a university hackathon project back in 2019 where he and co-founder, Przmeyslaw Lorenczak, built an AI system to design satellites. After winning the hackathon, they decided to spin it off into a company where they later pivoted to Earth Observation and onboarded their third cofounder, Manjitha Wijesinghe. Their pivot was driven by a desire to use space technology to find a solution to the global problem of climate change. 

“That's how we stumbled across hyperspectral imaging technology and that has now become the core of what we're developing,” said Iqbal. 

Esper are launching their first test node as part of a larger data collection infrastructure onboard Optimus in 2022. They are hoping that their hyperspectral imagers will fill in gaps in current data so that they can improve the way the Earth’s resources are utilised by reducing environmental impacts. 

“We're delivering intelligent data from space, for industrial efficiency on earth,” added Iqbal. 

The first two spiral blues’ edge computers called Space Edge Zero (SEZ) were launched earlier this year aboard two SatRevolution satellites, STORK-4 and STORK-5. Once those satellites have been commissioned, it is hoped that the 5-metre resolution imagery captured by STORK-4 and STORK-5’s optical sensors will be passed onto an onboard SEZ unit, allowing the prototype computer to take in and process EO imagery in real-time.

“This year and next year [we will be] proving out the technology and then from late next year onwards we will start to really bring on customers and really scale up and build out a constellation of satellites carrying our computers,” added Huq. 

“We see SMC as a really good opportunity because they are in Australia,” he concluded. 

Modular Robotic Arms for Small Satellites

The Canadarm2 onboard the International Space Station. Robotic arms have been vital to the success of the ISS. These arms have huge potential for satellite deployment, repairs, on-orbit manufacture and capture of redundant satellites, potentially for space parts or disposal. Credit: NASA.

NSW based, Sperospace, specialises in space robotics, including robotic arms and actuators. This part of the mission will test some of the startup’s solutions, primarily focusing on assembling, maintaining, and repairing satellites in space.

“Sperospace started in 2019 with a mission to build a sustainable future for space. We started developing In Situ Resource Utilisation technologies and have since focused on robotic arms for in-space servicing. The status quo where satellites are unable to be repaired, upgraded, or even refuelled after launch has led to significant wastage across the industry,” said Sperospace CEO Bohan Deng.

The company sees this as an important technical validation milestone as it develops space heritage for important subcomponents such as motors and electronic systems. They are also hoping that this will be an important step to future collaboration, as the Optimus platform would be well suited to servicing satellites.

“This launch will validate Sperospace’s in-space assembly mechanisms and actuators which are a core part of our technology portfolio. This is a stepping stone to integrating sophisticated payloads such as robotic arms aboard Space Machine’s spacecraft,” explained Deng. 

Earlier this year Sperospace received a Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility Grant, to the value of \$200,000. The grant will be used to conduct Phase A and Phase B studies on a Robotic Satellite Demonstration mission, launch a first demonstration payload, develop a second payload to Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 6, and build the first prototype of a Multifunction Arm Robot for Space (MARS). 

Dandelions, the fourth partner, is an innovative aerospace communications company that enables domestic and international Internet of Things (IoT) players to add space-based assets, such as satellites, to their existing sensor networks.

“Dandelions is excited to partner with Space Machines on this pioneering Australian collaboration. This launch will allow us to showcase our proprietary stack for Emergency Services Organisations (ESO’s) and terrestrial sensor grid stakeholders across private and public sector clients,” said Brian Lim, Founder/CEO Dandelions.

“The Australian space start-up environment is a thriving market. The local start-ups that we will be working with, contribute to the value chain in their own way and together we can demonstrate an added value and the strength of an emerging space ecosystem in Australia,” concluded Kulshrestha.