In July, Startup Weekend Space met for the second time in two years, fielding ten teams dedicated to the development of space technologies, and broader conceptual understandings of space.
Hosted in San Jose on July 25-27, the weekend provided 54-hours of outer-worldly ideation around “NewSpace.”
NewSpace is a simple way to refer to the complex network of innovations and people that power the emerging, privatized market for space technologies. In the wake of funding cuts for NASA and other government-subsidized space programs, American entrepreneurs have looked to each other for the brainpower and funding necessary to push onward and outward.
“Our vision is to enable a new era of citizen aerospace exploration through enabling [consumer space] technologies,” James Parr, a team leader at Makernautics, said. “Makernautics is part of a bigger vision of citizen space exploration enabled by open technology platforms – we’re calling this the ‘Open Space Agency‘.”
Makernautics, a team formed during the weekend, intends to enable 3D printing for satellite, telescope, and rocket technologies, as well as the other components that make data collection possible in space.
“Through scaling citizen networks with open technology, our ultimate goal is to create a community of citizen space explorers that can help [government] space agencies and private enterprise achieve their aims,” Parr said. “One of first proof-of-concept projects we’re close to completing is the development of an asteroid hunting telescope. This is to help citizen scientists characterize Near Earth Objects, as part of NASA’s Grand Challenge to find all of the asteroids that present a threat to human populations.”
The weekend’s winning team, BioCube, conceptualized a line of cube satellites that are intended to help biologists study organic materials in space.
“We are kicking our project into full force,” Christine Fanchiang, team leader at BioCube, said. “We have been in the process of developing our business by meeting with a number of [biologists], business professionals, and founders from other start-up companies. We’re looking at a number of other opportunities that could help accelerate our capabilities, including technology transfers, research grants, and additional startup accelerators.”
Young, hopeful attendees buoyed the room with creativity, and a cross-section of technical veterans helped channel the collective ambitions of the weekend. Leadership for the event offered an unprecedented variety of space professionalism, including media, private sector, and government representatives familiar with “OldSpace,” as well as new.
PongSat Parts uniquely represented a NewSpace blend of scientific proliferation and consumer economics.
The team, formed prior to the weekend by entrepreneur Blaze Sanders, sells pre-built kits for lifting materials into space (~$75.) Sanders’ experience with NewSpace technology includes the development of virtual reality systems, low-space skydiving equipment, and rocketry.
PongSat Parts hopes to make small satellites commonplace across global consumer markets, and caters to users of all technical proficiencies. Sanders used Startup Weekend: Space to refine his team’s business plan and raise capital.
“As opposed to the traditional Startup Weekend event, Startup Weekend Space is less focused on the immediate business plans of a [participating] team,” Reuben Metcalfe, the lead organizer for Startup Weekend Space, said. “The obstacles that space startups face are on a physically larger and more meticulously challenging scale than those facing most startups. We still demand that they build a business plan capable of kicking off on Monday…. It’s just that much harder to do it all.”
Metcalfe, an entrepreneur and self-described ‘space geek’, has been lead organizer for Startup Weekend: Space throughout its existence. Metcalfe is the founder of IDreamofSpace.com, a startup directed at making space travel accessible to broad consumer markets. Metcalfe has worked with NewSpace entrepreneurs for the past two years.
“The [return on investment] for time and money spent on space technologies is much longer, and teams are forced to consider ten or twenty years of economic and political change over a weekend,” Metcalfe said. “But that doesn’t mean they get a handicap from the judges.”
Metcalfe hopes to host the next Startup Weekend Space event in November, in a location outside of the US.