Revolutionizing Space Tech: 10 Mind-Blowing Innovations Reshaping Our Cosmic Future!

By Ambika Tula

The past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in space travel and the technological innovation driving it. Billionaire space tourists Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson made the headlines in 2021, while Elon Musk has his sights set on the colonisation of Mars.

There have been many improvements in space tech and among them a selected few are

1. Small Satellites

Small satellites are cute aren’t they? They are quite popular and are increasingly becoming common in recent years, making it the top trend among SpaceTech trends in 2022. Miniaturised satellites allow for cheaper designs and advancements in industrial technologies enable their mass production. Start-ups develop small satellites that allow space companies to conduct missions that large satellites typically struggle with. Moreover, small satellites are well-suited for use in proprietary wireless communications networks and for scientific observation, data gathering, and monitoring the earth using the GPS.

Traditionally, pico-satellite tradition of stacking circuit boards in a satellite frame was not judicious, so, here’s a solution

Danish startup Space Inventor intends to break the pico-satellite tradition of stacking circuit boards in a satellite frame and instead re-institutes the use of modules. The startup compiles sub-systems with thermal stability, shielding, and mechanical ruggedness into modules to build small satellites like CubeSats. This saves time for engineers who build and assemble satellites.

2. Advanced Space Manufacturing

Space manufacturing adopts innovative technologies to improve space products and services. With the advent of advanced robotics, 3D printing, and light-based manufacturing, innovations in the space industry are also progressing. Large space structures, reusable launch vehicles, space shuttles, and satellite sensors have become a reality, owing to advancements in manufacturing processes. Automation is also vital for the space industry for long-term space exploration and mission, due to which start-ups provide such solutions tailored for the industry.

Rockets are of one time use. This is hazardous, both economically and for the environment. Momentous manufactures reusable rockets-

Momentus manufactures Reusable Rockets for Public Transportation

US-based start-up Momentus makes transportation to space affordable through its reusable rockets. After the final drop-off, the reusable vehicles de-orbit to another orbit. The reusable vehicle is equipped with robotic arms and is capable of performing proximity manoeuvres, docking, and refuelling, and is well-suited for an entire range of in-orbit services.

Tech innovations do not take place only in the west but around the world. Here’s an example-

Equatorial Space Systems develops Commercial Sub- Orbital Rockets

Singaporean start-up Equatorial Space Systems develops a commercial sub- orbital rocket capable of delivering small payloads above the Karman line, the boundary between space and atmosphere. Designed for cost-effective missions, the start-up’s solution, Dorado, comes in two variants – a single-stage vehicle capable of reaching an apogee of 105 km and a two-stage version designed to exceed a target altitude of 250 km. The two rockets provide 3 and 6 minutes of weightlessness, respectively.

How the communications have developed in recent developments, take a look-

3. Advanced Communications

At its simplest, space communications rely on two things – a transmitter and a receiver. A transmitter encodes a message onto electromagnetic waves. These waves then flow through space toward the receiver. However, recent developments in space communication go beyond transmitters and receivers to offer advanced communication in space through high-capacity antennae, ground stations, and LEO satellites.

Thorium Space Technology develops Ultra-Flat Interference-Free Antenna

Polish startup Thorium Space Technology develops an ultra-flat, scalable active-matrix antenna. The antenna uses a band that is relatively free from interference from the earth or space. As a result, it improves throughput and system capacity when compared to the existing systems. Besides, the antenna uses high radio frequencies and incorporates the functionalities of electronic control and beam modelling.

Arctic Space Technologies decentralises Processing Power for Ground Stations

Swedish start-up Arctic Space Technologies brings computational power next to the software-driven ground station. Instead of relaying satellite data directly to the cloud and running into data bottlenecks, the startup decentralises processing power next to the station. This enables true real-time processing without latency while reducing bandwidth and storage requirements on the network.

Removing space junk or debris is a major issue. Just as we clean the earth of all the toxic garbage which harms the environment, the environment of space has to be cleaned as well.

4. Space Traffic Management

Of all the man-made LEO satellites, a vast majority of them are now space junk. This includes rocket thrusters, derelict satellites, and most of all, tiny fragments of debris from collisions and explosions. All of this debris threatens the environment of future exploration and travel. To tackle this situation, startups develop feasible solutions for debris retrieval and space traffic management.

ClearSpace removes Satellite Relics

Clear Space is a spin-off from the Swiss EPFL Space Centre that develops technologies to remove unresponsive or derelict satellites from space. The start-up’s small satellite solution finds, captures, and removes man-made space debris repeatedly. The start-up plans to remove the first pieces of debris from space by 2025.

OrbitGuardians develops Low-Cost Active Debris Removal Technology

US-based startup OrbitGuardians is a commercial provider of active debris removal services. The startup aims to protect space workers, tourists, and operating satellites by actively removing dangerous space debris smaller than twenty centimetres. By utilising computer vision, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT), the startup enables low-cost debris removal by acquiring all the available debris parameters like location, size, and the number of debris chunks.

Then in propulsion-

5. Smart Propulsion

In-space propulsion is an important subsystem for satellite constellations. Given the costs and environmental impact that come with space missions, companies seek ways to ensure the sustainability of these missions. Hence, global startups and scaleups develop several solutions ranging from electric, green, and water-based propulsion to iodine-based propulsion systems to enable the next generation of clean rockets in space.

ThrustMe develops an Electric Propulsion System

French start-up ThrustMe offers an electric space propulsion system that uses iodine as a propellant. The start-up’s solution is a low-cost propulsion alternative for bigger satellites. ThrustMe’s technology finds applications in newer satellites, as well as in products designed to solve emerging challenges associated with the rise of satellite constellations.

Dawn Aerospace develops a Non-Toxic Propulsion System

Based in New Zealand and the Netherlands, Dawn Aerospace builds same-day reusable launch vehicles and high-performance, non-toxic propulsion systems for satellites of all sizes. The startup’s SmallSat Propulsion Thruster replaces poisonous hydrazine with nitrous oxide and propene. For CubeSats, it significantly improves performance than electric-based propulsion systems with the same propellants.

6. Space Activity Management

Activity management is an emerging SpaceTech trend that concerns the management of movement and activity in space. Space activities include tourism, industrial missions, satellite servicing, food production, waste disposal, and space station improvement. Such trends create more room for the scientific community, for example, by enabling the study of how living things behave in space.

Leviathan Space Industries builds a Space Station Network

US-based startup Leviathan Space Industries is developing a space station network. The network consists of 14 space stations and uses artificial gravity to advance space travel, trade, and tourism. Besides, the startup leverages a spaceport on the equatorial line to maximise launch vehicle fuel savings and payload maximisation. Its infrastructure thus enables a sustainable ecosystem for safe and democratic space exploration.

Obruta Space advances In-Orbit Satellite Servicing

Canadian startup Obruta Space Solutions develops a device to enable new satellites to be serviced in orbit. The startup’s solution, Puck, extends the operational lives of satellites with refuelling services and upgrades. The device also allows satellites to extend their lifespans while aiding in their eventual removal and enable humans to sustainably occupy orbital environments.

7. Space Missions

Space exploration addresses the fundamental questions about our universe and the history of our solar system. By addressing the challenges related to space exploration, humans find opportunities in advancing mining, material science, and life science research. Space missions also widen the scientific and technological advancements while inspiring the future generation of students, teachers, and researchers worldwide.
Lunar Station develops Technology to Visualise the Lunar Environment

US-based startup Lunar Station Corporation develops a technology platform to convert lunar sensory datasets into 3D visualisations of environmental conditions on the moon. The startup’s solutions provide rapid and mission-specific intelligence to improve mission planning. Its products MoonHacker and Moon Navigational Services provide clients with cutting-edge lunar environmental intelligence.

Helios develops In-Situ Resource Utilisation Technology for Lunar & Martian Missions

Israeli startup Helios provides in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) technology to realise the vision of setting permanent lunar and martian bases. The startup’s Molten Regolith Electrolysis Reactor separates the abundant oxides found on Martian and Lunar surfaces. The startup’s reactor then converts into oxygen and various metals such as iron, aluminium, and titanium. The startup also works on storage technology to enable the optimal utilisation of produced oxygen.

8. Space Mining

The mining of celestial bodies is shifting from science-fiction (Sci-Fi) to reality. Asteroid mining by private individuals and companies through advancements in space cameras and satellites aid in the precise location of asteroids. Once located, these celestial bodies can be used to extract minerals such as platinum, gold, iron, or even water. The economic incentive for space mining is evident and analysts predict that it could potentially translate to a billion-dollar industry.

Asteroid Mining Corporation develops Satellites for Asteroid Mining

UK-based startup Asteroid Mining Corporation develops a satellite to prospect near-earth asteroids (NEAs) as mining candidates. The startup provides a series of different spacecraft for prospecting, exploration, and extraction, with each craft performing a particular mission. Its proprietary dataset generated from its Asteroid Prospecting Satellite One (APS1) mission guides explorers to specific mining candidates.

HEO Robotics utilizes Space-based Cameras for Asteroid Mining

Australian startup High Earth Orbit Robotics combines intelligent control with space-based cameras to acquire high-quality imagery of satellites, space debris, and resource-rich asteroids. This imagery is then useful for locating and observing asteroids for mining. The startup builds small satellites that operate in the high-earth orbit (HEO) to observe celestial bodies.

9. Low-Earth Orbit Satellites

A low-earth orbit is relatively close to Earth’s surface and is normally at an altitude of less than 1000 km but could be as low as 160 km above Earth. Also, LEO satellites do not always follow a particular path around Earth. This means that there are more routes for satellites in the LEO. This makes it a feasible target for space companies. To this end, startups develop relevant solutions and techniques to deal with LEO-related challenges, including communication systems and data management.

SpaceAble enables Decentralised LEO Satellite Inspection

French startup SpaceAble provides an on-demand in-situ asset inspection solution for LEO satellites. It uses a decentralised approach to gather outer-space awareness and provides the space community with critical data and operational safety. The startup is currently in the process of creating a safe environment free of redundancy and other malfunctions.

WARPSPACE develops an Optical Telecommunication Service for LEO Satellites

Japanese startup WARPSPACE offers LEO optical telecommunication services from 2023 with its optical data relay network in the medium-earth orbit (MEO) for satellite operators. This network will develop communication with the LEO satellites using an optical link. Users only have to equip a small optical transceiver that the startup provides. Further, by using their services, LEO missions will be able to achieve one Gbps connection.

10. Space Data

LEO satellites and multi-satellite constellations are increasingly in use for communication, spying, earth monitoring, and other imaging applications. With large volumes of data from these satellites, there is a need to process, treat, analyze, and manage the information. Startups tap into SpaceTech data using AI, blockchain, and big data to offer secure data solutions for the space industry.

Improvement in space technology has been an integral issue in the mid-20th century in our country. Improvement in this sector meant major development nationally which had the potential to boost the economic and technological strata of the country.

Space activities in the country started during the early 1960s with the scientific investigation of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere over the magnetic equator that passes over Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram using small sounding rockets Realising the immense potential of space technology for national development, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the visionary leader, envisioned that this powerful technology could play a meaningful role in national development and solving the problems of the common man.

The objective of ISRO is to develop space technology and its application to various national tasks. Accordingly, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully operationalised two major satellite systems namely Indian National Satellites (INSAT) for communication services and Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites for management of natural resources, also, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for launching IRS type of satellites and Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for launching INSAT type of satellites.