July 9, 2019 – The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicle Directorate’s Catalyst Space Accelerator held its third Demo Day on June 27, 2019 at the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in downtown Colorado Springs. The seven companies in the Resilient Commercial Space Communications Cohort were granted a unique opportunity to pitch their innovative, disruptive technologies to an overflowing audience of government and corporate strategic investors, Space Communications subject matter experts, and venture capitalists.
The crowd filled the historic Harvey House event center as well as a second large meeting room. After brief opening remarks by Catalyst Campus Executive Director Rich Burchfield, Program Director KiMar Gartman, and Government Lead Lt David Buehler, the beautifully-prepared, smoothly-honed presentations articulated each company’s mission, vision and technology for the largest audience to date for a Catalyst Space Accelerator Demo Day.
Cohort And Programming
In selecting this cohort, the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate and the Catalyst Space Accelerator were looking for non-traditional companies that could contribute to a suite of options to augment, supplement, backup, complement, and/or improve current space communication capabilities. Participating companies received seed funding from Space Capital Colorado, a Catalyst-endowed accelerator fund, as well as direct access to operational experts and stakeholders from the United States Air Force and other government agencies, and from the Catalyst Campus, SBDC TechSource and PTAC national network of mentors, partners and investors.
Catalyst Space Accelerator offers a robust program of workshops, customer discovery, and networking events. The Customer Discovery process allows participants to gain a better understanding of the commercial market and customers, the warfighter needs and the DoD market, and the DoD acquisition processes. Companies are assigned Air Force Sherpas to help them make military connections, while Commercial Sherpas help with commercial contacts. The programming includes hours of “pitch practice” under the expert guidance of the Accelerator’s partner, SBDC TechSource, which was evident as the presentations began.
OPTERUS RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT, Loveland, Colorado
The first presentation was a pre-recorded video by Dr. Tom Murphey, CEO and Founder of Opterus. Opterus gives small spacecraft the performance of big spacecraft through rapid innovations in deployable and unfolding structures ranging from high precision, frequency and gain parabolic RF reflectors to extremely large area antennas, solar sails, and sun shades.
Dr. Murphey explained that Opterus pioneered High Strain Composites (HSC) and is the industry’s leading innovator in developing new HSC materials, structures, and low-cost manufacturing technologies. Opterus’ HSCs achieve bending strains 2x greater than previously used materials enabling 8x greater deployment forces with 5x greater mass efficiency and 20x greater dimensional stability. Opterus leverages these two technologies to develop exceptionally high performance and dimensionally stable deployable structures. (www.opterusrd.com)
OMNISPACE, Tysons, Virginia
The next presentation was given by Campbell Marshall, Vice President of International Market Development of Omnispace. Omnispace owns/operates a global, non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite system harnessing 60Mhz of globally harmonized S-band spectrum and a network of worldwide ground stations. Mr. Marshall discussed how the Omnispace pole-to-pole communications system permits seamless transitions between urban, rural and maritime domains. They use Ancillary Terrestrial Component technology to leverage their 2 GHz spectrum, which sits adjacent to global LTE cellular frequencies. This enables mobile and IoT devices to move seamlessly between existing terrestrial cellular networks and Omnispace’s NGSO satellite constellation.
The audience learned that, for the military, the Omnispace network provides a spectrally efficient, scalable, low-latency, global communications platform, bringing mobile connectivity beyond the limits of cellular coverage between all domains. Commercially, Omnispace brings reliable mobile connectivity to the fields of transportation and logistics, energy, public safety, health, and agriculture. (www.omnispace.com)
XENESIS, Chicago, Illinois
Xenesis’ Founder and CEO, Mark LaPenna, followed with a presentation about Xenesis, which represents to spectrum what broadband represented to dial-up 30 years ago. He discussed Xen-HubTM, a compact, reduced-complexity, low-cost laser communications transceiver for downlinking data from Earth-orbiting spacecraft, point-to-point communications and private networking.
Working together with NASA, JPL, CalTech, Georgia Tech, Atlas Space Operations and Laser Light Communications, Xenesis is positioned to solve the New Space satellite communications problem by offering low cost & high bandwidth Space-to-Ground optical data transport. The technology has numerous applications and the presentation fully supported the claim on the Xenesis website that they “control the most cutting-edge NASA Space-to-Ground communications technology.” (www.xenesis.io)
ANALYTICAL SPACE, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gil Valdes, Business Development Lead, presented for Analytical Space, Inc. (ASI). ASI is a satellite communications company that leverages hybrid RF-laser communications technology. They are launching a satellite relay network that will provide the first secure, reliable, high-speed data connection for Earth observation satellites. By uploading to this network, satellite operators will have access to more of their data more quickly, all while using their existing hardware.
The process is very simple: client satellites collect data, then offload it to ASI relays using RF. ASI crosslinks the client data between relays in orbit, then downlinks it using RF and laser. The data relays are backwards compatible across a wide range of radio frequencies, have extremely high throughput, and very low latency that decreases with each relay satellite added to the network. The many commercial and military applications include asset tracking, hyperspectral imaging, and weather forecasting. (www.analyticalspace.com)
ATLAS Space Operations, Traverse City, Michigan
Ryan Clulo, FreedomTM Software Engineer, presented ATLAS Space Operations’ global communication and data services that leverage cloud-based intelligence to lower cost and deliver simple, secure, and scalable value-added solutions. He described how ATLAS’ cloud-based FreedomTM software interconnects and powers their globally expansive network of 31 operational and planned ground antennas with secure access to data to and from space, with a high data flow and low latency.
The features of their services include secure access to any space or ground asset through a single VPN entry point; scalability, so clients can transmit, receive and store data for a single spacecraft or mega constellations; and data and analytics with dozens of metrics every two seconds per pass. (www.atlasground.com)
SKYLOOM, Berkeley, California
Santiago Tempone, co-founder and CTO of Skyloom, discussed Skyloom’s development of a spaceborne optical data transfer network leveraging small geostationary relay satellites to provide 24×7 high capacity communications services for low Earth orbit constellations, whether observing or communicating with the planet. This infrastructure allows Skyloom’s customers to move massive amounts of information immediately, allowing for real-time insights and applications.
Skyloom eliminates the data transfer bottleneck caused by the current low data rates for radio-based links for smallsats, the limited contact satellites currently have with ground stations, and by the enormous amounts of expensive power required to transmit. Their solution’s unique architecture and infrastructure allow them to offer high capacity, immediacy and flexibility in data plans to LEO constellations. (www.skyloom.co)
SPEQTRAL QUANTUM TECHNOLOGIES (SQT), Denver, Colorado
SQT, Speqtral Quantum Technologies, was represented by CEO David Mitlyng, who started off dramatically by saying, “We deliver a magic box that provides an unspoofable, unhackable link for your secure network. We are the only company outside of China with a space-qualified entangled photon source: i.e., a magic box.”
Mr. Mitlyng went on to explain the intricacies of quantum communications, including photon entanglement and its applications to space communications, focusing on Quantum Key Distribution and secure Quantum Clock Synchronization. The former is a more secure form of encryption, that thwarts eavesdropping and spoofing, as opposed to public key encryption – which is much more vulnerable to advances in computing – or couriers, who bring their own security problems and inconveniences. Quantum Clock Synchronization allows for unspoofable time transfer for PNT and has precise accuracy to within <100 picoseconds.
To illustrate the power of quantum technologies, Mr. Mitlyng quoted Dr. Krysta Svore, of Microsoft Research: “The RSA-2048 Challenge Problem would take 1 billion years with a classical computer. A quantum computer could do it in 100 seconds.” www.linkedin.com/company/speqtral-quantum-technologies/
fascinated, the audience seemed deeply interested in each space
communications technology as it was explained. As Accelerator Government
Lead Lt Buehler observed, “The companies absolutely nailed their
pitches and many of the guests I spoke with said that they enjoyed the
event and were blown away by the technology presented.”
Ryan Clulo of ATLAS Space Operations, who was a presenter, was very enthusiastic about both Demo Day and the entire program: “I thought today’s presentation was great. I was very appreciative to the SBDC [Accelerator partner the Small Business Development Center] for helping me develop that pitch. The Accelerator has been a great experience for me; it is certainly a huge jumpstart to get this kind of business experience as an engineer, so I have been honored to participate. As engineers we talk at a high level about what ground systems need to do, and we think we have an innovative idea, but to come out here and to see what other companies are doing – well, it’s been a lot of fun for me personally, and has been a great experience for the company.”
The Honorable Sue Payton, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions, enjoyed a front-row seat. Afterwards, she said she was interested in “the synergy that you could see across all these companies, especially after they have worked together. And with a systems engineer like Lt Buehler showing us the OV-1 [High Level Operational Concept Graphic] of how all these systems came together – that was brilliant.”
Heidi Wright, Director of Technical Marketing at Braxton Industries and a member of a previous cohort, commented that “being on the audience-side of Demo Day was very different than being on the cohort-side. Knowing all the hard work that these companies have put in prior to this culmination, I have an immense respect for them and their dedication to changing the way space communications is done going forward.”
Sponsorships and Sherpas
Companies can champion the Accelerator program through various levels of sponsorship. Sponsors are acknowledged on our website, social media, and throughout the community.
Catalyst Space Accelerator is also grateful to the Commercial Sherpas, who gave their time to assist the cohort. The Sherpas were from Viasat, Microsoft, Deloitte, SEAKR Engineering and LinQuest. The Accelerator is always seeking Commercial Sherpas to assist with future cohorts; please visit https://www.catalystaccelerator.space/partners/.