From satellite education to space junk eliminators: Meet SA’s next-gen space-tech founders

From satellite education to space junk eliminators: Meet SA’s next-gen space-tech founders

L-R: Team 3 CEO Andrew Savchenko, Team 3 CTO Ben Dickson, AICRAFT founder Dr Tony Scoleri, Robinson Aerospace Systems founder Edward Robinson and Paladin Space founder Harrison Box. (Image via VCS).

A handful of aspiring South Australian entrepreneurs have today been unveiled as participants in a commercial space program run by the University of South Australia’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre (ICC) and the state government’s Space Innovation Fund.

Called Venture Catalyst Space (VCS), the program supports emerging space-tech businesses with funding, mentoring and networking opportunities, and has previously backed 29 startups that have collectively raised $14 million in additional investment and grants since the initiative’s inception in 2018.

The latest cohort includes a number of South Australia-based startups, ranging from those looking to clean up space debris and junk to techies building real-time visualisation tools for large swathes of data, as well as a founder fresh out of high school who wants to educate students on the importance of CubeSats - a kind of nanosatellite used for research.

From today, the participants will take part in an intensive six-month accelerator course where they will be joined by overseas founders from India, Canada and New Zealand.

“The local talent joining our program is a true testimony to the successful development of South Australia’s commercial space ecosystem,” ICC director Jasmine Vreugdenburg said.

“We know our NewSpace sector is growing by more than 64 per cent per year, and we are well on track to grow our industry by more than $8 billion by 2023.

“Adelaide, as Australia’s space capital, is leading this charge, and our four new local startups will bring significant breadth and diversity to our domestic space sector.”

South Australian Deputy Premier and Minister for Defence and Space Industries Susan Close said VCS continued to prove its success as an incubator to develop and grow innovative ideas in the space sector.

“Venture Catalyst Space is an exciting program that is proving itself as a successful springboard for high calibre space start-ups, who are truly doing some amazing things,” Close said.

“South Australia’s space sector is growing at a rapid pace and the level of talent and innovation emerging from this program is building critical capability and growing investment and know-how in the state’s space economy.”

Read more about the South Australian founders taking part in VCS 2023 below:

AICRAFT

Founder: Dr Tony Scoleri

AICRAFT founder Dr Tony Scoleri

With a PhD in pure mathematics and computer vision, and more than a decade of experience in the the public and private defence industry, Dr Tony Scoleri is looking to make satellites smarter with his venture AICRAFT.

The company specialises in purpose-built electronics and advanced semiconductor technology to craft ultra-compact, high-speed, low power AI solutions for high-performance computing on board satellites.

Founded in 2021, Dr Scoleri’s AICRAFT solutions are field-ready, and the company recently launched its first device on a satellite in February - an ‘exciting’ moment for the founder.

He’s hoping to solve a problem for ground users of satellites who otherwise have to wait for data to download back on Earth. AICRAFT’s solution speeds up the process and makes complex calculations while in space.

“We’re trying to be more efficient with computing, because at the moment there’s a lot of data that is being generated, and there’s simply not enough power to analyse the data and have the results available,” Dr Scoleri said.

“The big problem is that it takes a long time to download that into ground stations, and then you don’t even know if there’s something useful or not in the date you’ve downloaded.

“So we’ve really tried to speed up that processing and do it in orbit, but be very efficient with power.”

Dr Scoleri said the AICRAFT tech was agnostic to data, and it could connect to a variety of instruments like cameras and antennae.

“It could be that you’re using it for maritime observation - looking for iceberg debris - or for resource management onboard the satellite,” he said.

“It’s like a mini computer - what you can do on your desktop you can do on this, it’s just that it’s efficient, small, and it’s got enough grunt that you can actually do something useful with it.”

Paladin Space

Founder: Harrison Box

Paladin Space founder Harrison Box

Paladin Space founder Harrison Box is on a mission to clean up debris orbiting aimlessly around Earth with an innovative and sustainable solution called RED.

With millions of items of debris in orbit - mostly tiny pieces of space scrap - Box said there was high demand for his in-space garbage removal machine that he believes will even save lives.

The re-usable satellite works by capturing space junk in a container, before reorienting and shooting the fragments into the atmosphere on an angle that ensures the trash will burn up upon reentry - completely annihilating it.

“We’re starting to see a boom in the space industry which is exciting, but this is only adding to the growing risk we currently face for space debris,” Box told Business News Australia.

“It poses a risk not just to operational satellites that we rely on for GPS and things like that, but it’s also posing a risk to human lives we have in orbit on the ISS for example.

“We’re targeting any range of sizes [of debris], ideally the smaller fragments.”

Box said he designed the concept for his satellite years ago while completing his master’s thesis on the subject, but was waiting for the right time to establish the company and hit the market which “wasn’t ready” five or six years ago.

“It wasn’t a big problem back then, but it’s becoming a big problem now,” said Box, who moved to Adelaide from Scotland two years ago.

“We’re talking very small pieces to the very large dead satellites and rocket bodies.

“There’s nothing on the market at the moment that can remove these fragments - until now.”

The eventual plan is to make sure the RED satellite can run completely autonomously so that Paladin Space can just ‘fire it up and forget about it’.

“It will just go around capturing as many pieces as it can,” he said.

Box said his participation in VCS was ‘incredibly exciting’ and ‘the first step towards making this a commercial reality’.

“We’re looking forward to not just the capital - because we know that VCS is about more than just capital - we’re looking forward to networking with our industry partners, getting opinions and peer reviews of our designs, and making sure that we’re doing this prototyping and testing phase in a streamlined and effective manner,” he said.

Robinson Aerospace Systems

Founder: Edward Robinson

Robinson Aerospace Systems founder Edward Robinson

Recent high-school graduate Edward Robinson is taking his passion for space and electronics and passing it onto a new cohort of young Australians with his satellite education company Robinson Aerospace Systems.

The young founder, who went into business right out of high school having taught himself all about engineering and electronics while completing secondary education, wants to inspire kids to get into space much like he did.

Robinson is hoping to achieve this with his CubeSat kits - a flatpack desktop satellite model that enables hands-on learning for high school students.

Built with an aluminium structure, internal electronics that look and function just like a CubeSat and solar cells to keep the final product functional, the Robinson Aerospace Systems satellites can teach students nearly everything about the common micro-satellite beyond sending it into space.

Robinson told Business News Australia his company had already raised ‘a little bit of money to get started’, and had closed pre-sales for the first batch of school-ready flatpacks - all hand-made by the founder himself in house (aka, ‘the corner of dad’s shed’).

“The satellites are being sold directly to schools, where students in grades 8 to 10 are going to be using them to learn everything about satellites from the importance of what’s inside satellites to how they’re assembled,” Robinson said.

“We’ve just closed pre-sales which did alright, but there’s big potential for the company to go a lot further. Right now, its still a small business but I’m here to found a startup and really take things further.

“This is my first startup venture, so this is an opportunity to learn a lot more about how startups operate, how to raise capital and how to find customers.”

Team 3

Co-founders: Andrew Savchenko (CEO) and Ben Dickson (CTO)

Team 3 co-founder Ben Dickson and Andrew Savchenko

Though not purely a space-tech company, Team 3’s data intelligence and visualisation tool called DISA (Data Intelligence, Search & Analysis) promises a major upgrade to existing systems utilised by government and private organisations in the sector.

The tool allows users to explore many ideas simultaneously with a user-friendly, no-code platform that can analyse and visualise complex swathes of data in real time at a blisteringly fast pace.

The sector-agnostic DISA receives data input from sources such as satellite imagery, text or the web, and - at 60 frames per second - can give users results instantaneously.

In a short demonstration given to Business News Australia from the co-founders’ laptop, Team 3 CEO Andrew Savchenko and CTO Ben Dickson showed how DISA could take 10 million rows of data (far more than Excel can handle) and visualise it literally in real time - no loading screens or status bars to see.

“We are trying to simplify and streamline orchestration of complicated information operations,” Savchenko said, noting that the space application for DISA would be for ‘ground control predominately’.

“Our application was designed to be real time - the response time is under 20 milliseconds at all times. Computation and presentation are completely decoupled.

“Let’s say there is an emergency and we need to react quickly, we don’t want the person on the ground to stare at a frozen application and say ‘oh sorry we’re processing data, we’ll show it to you in a bit’.”

Dickson added that DISA was built using technology that was typically used for video game purposes as the engines can display millions of polygons at once instantly.

“It’s not based on technology that’s 20 years old that was made for computers that were slower than iPhones,” the CTO said.

Savchenko said participation in VCA was a chance for Team 3 to really get noticed, having operated in stealth for ‘a very long time’ prior.

“It took us some time just to iron out all the wrinkles, solidify some engineering matters, but now we are ready for a proper go-to-market,” Savchenko said.

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