It’s been almost 12 months since we first wrote about the ArduSat project, when it had just successfully passed its target on crowdfunding website Kickstarter by more than three times. With the aim of making a form of space exploration possible for those without degrees in rocket science – but a little technical know-how – the scheme is focused on an open-source Ardunio-based mini satellite, packed with sensors, that anyone could register to spend some time controlling once launched into the stratosphere. The group behind the ArduSat have lofty ambitions in more ways than one, and has now formed its own company – NanoSatisfi – as a result of the success of their funding campaign. We spoke to CEO Peter Platzer to find out how they’re getting on in making the dream of accessible space exploration a reality.
While the Kickstarter money helped the team develop its ArduSat product further, it was USD 1.2 million worth of seed funding that enabled it to create NanoSatisfi, a company whose aim now is to promote citizen space research and to help people develop their own innovative projects that may one day rival those of giants such as NASA. The investment – which came mostly from Silicon Valley angels and investors, as well some help from abroad – has enabled the company to grow from the three initially involved in developing the ArduSat to a team of 11. This group includes a broad range of skills and experience from science and engineering institutions like CERN, NASA and Lockheed Martin, business nous from former Wall Street and PricewaterhouseCoopers workers and education expertise that comes from Harvard, UC Berkeley and Brown.
“The biggest mile-stone has been that we secured a launch for ArduSat for this summer via our partner NanoRacks,” explains Platzer. This helped the company mark it’s first major step towards finally getting the ArduSat into space. Once in place, it is then that the team will be able to truly test the capabilities of their system and start enabling its users to make their research projects a reality. However, it hasn’t been easy. “The biggest shortage from the start has been time and money and these continue to be the major constraints under which we operate,” Platzer added.
The funding and creation of NanoSatisfi was understandably a large help, but so too are the numerous recognitions the team has received. The company was picked as the best demo pit startup at the Launch Conference 2013 and only recently Entrepreneur magazine selected NanoSatisfi as one of its top ’100 Brilliant Companies’ on the cutting edge of business. This support helps to raise awareness of NanoSatisfi’s goals and ambitions, which are to continue growing in the future. Once fully operational, Platzer says that NanoSatisfi’s aim will be “building many more ArduSat-like satellites in the future and giving students across the world access to a real, hands-on, space exploration experience at an affordable price.”
One of the keys to its success is its keen and active userbase, which has already started to establish itself. “Translating the passionate response from a small community into a viable business model with significant reach is an important and difficult transition,” Platzer states. A key demographic for the company is students, which is why it not only provides access to its satellite technology but has also created the ArduSatAcademy, a four-week course to help young people interested in astronomy to learn how to program the device, get experience working with genuine spacecraft and receive one-on-one mentorship from experts in the field.
Platzer hopes to stimulate a generation who have grown up in the New World of the internet, who realize more than most the illimitability of what they can achieve. By enabling them to design and run their own space exploration projects, he hopes a larger number of young people will be turned on by science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, industries which are in dire need of skilled workers.
“We need more graduates in the crucial fields of STEM and I think ArduSat and then NanoSatisfi can really have a big, positive impact on this problem by inspiring our next generation to enroll in STEM classes and become the innovation engine of the future.”