While space travel remains exclusive to professional astronauts and the superwealthy, operating your own robot in space is close to becoming an affordable reality for average Earthlings. NanoSatisfi, a Kickstarter-funded startup, is building open-source nanosatellites with the mission to give anyone access to control one in orbit for $250 per week.
Today, exactly 51 years after the first trans-Atlantic satellite television transmission, the company got a little closer to its goal with $300,000 in additional funding from investment firm Grishin Robotics.
NanoSatisfi CEO Peter Platzer described at the recent Techonomy Lab how his small, cheap, and highly connected satellites will establish “the Internet of the Universe.” Platzer says NanoSatisfi’s small satellites are a vast improvement on even the most modern weather satellite that the U.S. government flies—those, he says, are like million-dollar bus-sized main-frame computers. NanoSatisfi satellites run on processing power more comparable to the iPhone 5, are the size of a wine bottle, and cost $100,000.
Platzer, a high-energy physicist who worked at CERN and on Wall Street, was honored in June as a White House Champion for Change. He suggests the uses for nanosatellites are endless. To name a few: earthquake prediction, food distribution tracking, disaster management, and human behavior pattern observation. They’re all data-gathering tasks that could be enhanced by sensors with a “high-ground”—or stratosphere-level—view, he says.
The first two NanoSatisfi satellites are already built and will be launched later this year. Each has computation power “roughly 1000x higher than that of the Voyager 1 spacecraft,” the company claims. Users will get access to a web platform and open API for building non-satellite apps. Thanks to an agreement with NASA to help bring interactive space education to classrooms, the first customers will be educators and students.
Today’s cash infusion will enable the company to extend its engineering team, build additional satellites, and secure launches for them. Dmitry Grishin, founder of the personal robotics investment firm Grishin Robotics, sees the nanosatellites market as a significant part of the robotics revolution. “The same trends are transforming both industries. The price and barriers to entry, which are necessary to surmount in order to work with ‘robots in space’, are becoming lower every day,” he said in a statement about the funding today.
NanoSatisfi intends to launch another four satellites in 2014 to give “affordable access to space” to more than 25,000 people. Platzer says the company eventually will lease access to “a whole constellation of nanosatellites.”