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Proposals for Small-space-business Incubator Range from Practical to Fanciful

“Our sweet spot is the entrepreneurial space marketplace,” said Space Tango founder Kris Kimel. Credit: Photo by Benjamin Thomas

WASHINGTON — A Kentucky-based company’s small-space-business incubator, Space Tango, has in just one week attracted proposals for projects as practical as ground stations for small satellites and as seemingly far-fetched as video games linked to formation-flying nanosatellites in low Earth orbit.

Space Tango, part of the nonprofit business advancement group Kentucky Space, on Oct. 7 announced it would accept proposals to fund ultrasmall, entrepreneurial space ventures. By Oct. 17, the company had received about half a dozen proposals and generated nearly 50 informal inquiries, including some from overseas, founder Kris Kimel said in a phone interview.

“Our sweet spot is the entrepreneurial space marketplace,” said Kimel, who is also the president of Kentucky Space. “What we’re looking for is, in a sense, small, modest-cost-but-high-value ideas and companies. We’re getting proposals from very small companies with, in some cases, just 10 or 11 employees. Some have just a couple employees.”

Kimel declined to identify any of the companies that bid for a slice of Kentucky Space funding. He did say that one company proposed an in-orbit game in which video gamers on the ground would interface with tiny satellites in orbit, and that another proposed a novel ground system for communicating with tiny satellites. A third proposal centered around a new type of rack for science projects bound for the international space station.

The rack, a tweak on the sort of hardware that has been flying in space since the early space shuttle era, “is a very flexible platform to do inexpensive but high multiples of experiments on the station,” Kimel said. “A sort of high-throughput platform.”

Kimel said Space Tango wants to decide “before Christmas” which proposals to fund. As many as six awards worth up to $20,000 apiece are planned by that Dec. 25 internal deadline. Companies would get their money around March, Kimel said.

Some are bound to get less than the maximum, as Space Tango has so far raised only about $100,000, Kimel told SpaceNews. The money came almost entirely from angel investors, in keeping with Space Tango’s determination to eschew public funding to the maximum extent possible.

Space Tango will not necessarily be a profitable venture. 

“If we make any money at all, we might make 3 percent or 5 percent,” Kimel said. “If nothing else, we’re getting an outstanding early look — globally in some cases — at emerging applications for space technology.”

Kentucky Space was founded in 2006 as part of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., which got its start in 1987 and now has roughly $16 million in annual revenue and about 30 employees, Kimel said. 

The space-focused subsidiary has its genesis in an old venture of the parent company: an office near NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., opened in 2004 to support contract work the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. was doing for the center. 

Kentucky Space today has only about two full-time employees and annual revenue of less than $1 million. Nevertheless, the group has managed to establish a résumé in the world of trendy space technologies — even if things have not always gone smoothly.

In 2011, KySat-1, an imaging cubesat that was also set to experiment with high-bandwidth S-band communication, was lost when its carrier rocket, the Orbital Sciences Taurus XL carrying NASA’s Glory climate and weather satellite, crashed into the Pacific Ocean following a fairing malfunction.

KySat-2 is now set to fly to space in mid-November as one of 29 tiny satellites manifested on the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-3 mission, launching on an Orbital Sciences Minotaur 1 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. The group also has ultrasmall satellites known as Pocketqubes manifested for launch in late November aboard a Dnepr rocket from Yasny, Russia, as a secondary payload with University-Sat 5, a spacecraft made by students and professors from the University of Rome in Italy.

 

Read Dan on Twitter: @Leone_SN

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