Also, let me summarize what we have actually achieved in a coherent story.
So, even before we started our company, around March 2018 we were looking for an opportunity to make something interesting in space on a lowest possible budget. We looked into smallsat launchers and satellite hardware but realized capital requirements are just too much for a student team, even for a cubesat-scale project.
So, by November 2018, having reviewed a list nanosatellite missions for 2018-2022, we decided to find something that wasn’t on that list - this was the “satellite-for-rent” idea, or so we thought at this time. Later on, we learned about ESA OPS-SAT mission and applied to participate and got accepted as experimenters.
Our core idea is very simple - we own the satellite hardware in orbit, while customers only need to upload their mission software to get control of our satellite (with certain restrictions). The customers will only need a web-browser and access to deploy repository to get the same level of access to space-based hardware as any current satellite operators and government space agencies. The benefit of our case can be seen with our own story. Until today, if anyone wanted to own a satellite in space, one had to deal with the following challenges:
- At least $100,000 in cost for even the smallest cubesat
- At least 12 months of time and a team of several people
- Mountains of paperwork
For our ESA mission, we got our software to be deployed on the real satellite mission for only the following:
- Under $5000 of budget
- 1.5 month of time, for one person
- 4 pages of paperwork in total
The process can be improved even further and this what our software experiment is all about. It is a software runtime and interpreter that allows to execute scripts for the satellite instruments and subsystems, uploaded from the ground. As and end goal we will make deployment of customer software on the satellites as easy as it is done for the web sites on the ground. All the required bits and pieces for that will be flight-tested in December 2019.
Theoretically, we can even immediately accept code submissions from any party in the world and let them control ESA satellite immediately after launch (not going to happen, but only due to safety/liability and not any technical reasons).
Nobody else has anything similar in terms of ease of use, low cost and potential for applications. Neither GomSpace, nor KubeOS offer direct hotline to satellites in space with the ability to run third-party mission software on demand from anyone on the ground. Lockheed Martin will not offer this kind of access for their sats. Loft Orbital doesn’t provide software-only satellite rental, requiring customers to provide their own hardware.
There are caveats of course. A lot of efforts going into ESA project is to prevent inadvertent termination of satellite mission due to customer errors. A robust mission envelope protection and client code isolation software is a must-have for any such platform. A downlink/uplink channel is a bottleneck, and this is where most of the capital costs will go into (scaling up ground station network). And a single satellite solution is a fragile and limited one, therefore commercial operations would benefit from the large constellation.
Useful applications for the rental model include all the current satellite ones, but with the advantage of undercutting the costs of development for said applications at least 3 orders of magnitude. Before our solution if you wanted a software in space, you would need to launch hardware as well. Now you only need to perform uplink command and do all the necessary development only on the ground. A single person with a laptop can do what previously required an entire space agency and this is exactly what happened in our case as our software started to be developed on July 1st, 2019 and passed the necessary validation tests on August 15, 2019.
Our vision is to give every software developer on Earth access to participation in space exploration, think of it as iOS or Android AppStore in space, where we own all of the store infrastructure.