Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance: Eight ISR Small Businesses Join Catalyst Space Accelerator

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance: Eight ISR Small Businesses Join Catalyst Space Accelerator

Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Accelerator at Catalyst Campus will Host Its Fourth Accelerator

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo – Sep 5, 2019 – This fall, eight companies from around the country will convene in Colorado Springs for the Catalyst Space Accelerator’s fourth cohort, centered around space-based Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).

 

The Catalyst Space Accelerator (CSA), sponsored by Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate, was created to advance technology for our warfighters. By boosting companies’ technology development and guiding them through working with the government, the Accelerator benefits both the economy and the warfighter. For this cohort, the Air Force is seeking to encourage commercially-viable solutions for its space-based ISR needs.

 

The strength of the CSA lies in its extensive but accelerated customer discovery. Because of its co-location in Colorado Springs with Air Force Space Command and several military bases, the CSA provides the ideal intersection of government entities and commercial expertise. What normally can take up to two years is reduced to a few weeks, allowing companies to speak with potential customers and refine their technology for specific use cases.

 

Starting on September 10, the cohort of companies will meet at Catalyst Campus every other week for 11 weeks. They will participate in workshops, work with government and commercial Sherpas, have access to the campus’ extensive collaborative ecosystem, and receive seed investment by Space Capital Colorado.

 

Out of 27 applicants, Space Capital Colorado selected the following eight small businesses to participate in the space-based ISR cohort:

 

Capella Space advances earth observation as an essential tool for commerce, conservation and security. Their vision is a world that shares a richer understanding of life on our planet. They provide the most frequent and timely Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data for monitoring change on Earth and are building a constellation of 36 small satellites that provide hourly earth monitoring at resolutions of less than 1 meter. With flexible imaging modes and low latency ordering from tasking to downlink to delivery, Capella Space offers a new experience for high resolution earth observation across many different markets.

https://www.capellaspace.com/

 

Chandah Space Technologies (CST) is a U.S. company focused on building and operating a constellation of small satellites, called InsureSats, geared towards commercial in-orbit inspection and space situational awareness. The company is licensed for Non-Earth Imaging by the U.S. Department of Commerce. CST’s management and Board have a strong record of commercial value creation and service in the U.S. Government.

http://www.chandah.com/

 

ExoTerra Imaging was created to provide a rapid and cost-effective capability for Global Cloud observations, which are critical for nearly all Department of Defense-related ISR, logistical, and tactical operations. Although these observations have served a critical function for over 40 years through the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), an improved follow-on capability is critically needed. The ExoTerra Imaging team has been engaged over the last several years in developing commercial alternatives for these critical need observations. Now they hope to use the Catalyst Accelerator to identify VC investment to build, launch, and operate a commercial system to meet new DoD requirements on a sustainable and cost-effective basis.

https://exoterracorp.com/

 

HyperVerge Inc, a Silicon Valley-based deep-learning startup funded by NEA, Milliways Ventures, and Nava Ventures, has developed patent-pending technology for real-time analysis of images and videos obtained from sources such as satellites, surveillance cameras, and documents. Their models lead the market with top accuracy values on many important datasets and are optimized for deployments in real-world low bandwidth environments and in cases with limited availability of training data. Deep-learning networks built by HyperVerge are powering applications for large enterprise clients in Defense, Energy, and Financial Services, ranging from processing 35M customers a month using their face recognition-based identity verification stack to extracting the entire energy infrastructure of Texas with 99% accuracy using satellite imagery.

https://hyperverge.co/

 

Kleos delivers geolocated Radio Frequency data from its own Low Earth Orbit Satellites, initially in the maritime VHF Band, to disrupt illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking and defense, security, and border challenges. Kloes geolocates VHF transmissions without reference to tracking systems such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) to reveal dark, unseen, and covert maritime activity. The data is complimentary to AIS and can tip and cue Synthetic Aperture Radar, Electro-Optical, and airbreathing assets. The data, provided as-a-Service, is reliable, repeatable, and easy to ingest. Kleos’ collection capability will grow to near real-time by launching further satellites with enhanced payloads driven by customer needs. The data will be offered at a variety of levels from raw to processed to be analytic ready.

https://kleos.space/

 

MemComputing is disrupting the High-Performance Computing market with their MemCPU™ XPC Cloud SaaS, which reduces the compute time from hours to seconds for today’s most complex optimization problems like those related to routing, scheduling, and machine learning. This product drives hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in efficiencies directly to the bottom line.

https://memcpu.com/

 

Rhea Space Activity (RSA), based in Washington, D.C., is an astro-consultancy founded to assist NewSpace companies in creating high-risk/high-reward R&D concepts in support of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and Department of Defense (DoD). RSA ideates, guides, and advises NewSpace clients, allowing them to maintain and grow their own R&D portfolio. RSA has successfully secured funding for several of its clients in the areas of in-space propulsion, on-orbit robotics, in-space manufacturing, space-based LIDAR, asteroid mining, and directed energy. The RSA foundational team is comprised of energetic, U.S. Government-connected astrophysicist and aerospace engineers who are deeply committed to the creation of technologies that enhance U.S. national security capabilities. RSA’s latest technology innovation, RUBY SKY, is an effort to develop a large aperture reconnaissance asset on-orbit within a small-satellite form factor.

https://www.rheaspaceactivity.com/#

 

Space-Eyes provides on-demand tasking to a Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite. Its collections across all weather and lighting conditions are integrated with contextual data and analyzed automatically for threats in the maritime domain. The online Space-Eyes platform will also use Amazon’s new ground stations, which will substantially reduce latency to enhance the ISRPED life-cycle. Space-Eyes currently offers capacity with one radar satellite operational and plans to have a constellation of 5 Radar satellites.

http://channellogistics.com/

 

For those interested in supporting the Accelerator, sponsorships are still available. There are several levels of sponsorship available, each providing various levels of exposure for the sponsor to audiences of high-level public and private decision makers.

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About Catalyst Space Accelerator

The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate Catalyst Accelerator is a NewSpace-focused defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Catalyst Campus is a collaborative ecosystem where industry, small business, entrepreneurs, startups, government, academia, and venture capital intersect with Colorado’s aerospace and defense industry to create community, spark innovation and stimulate business growth. Catalyst Space Accelerator is a collaborative program hosted by Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation (CCTI, a Colorado 501(c)3), Space Capital Colorado, and the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for accelerator teams.

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Company Highlights Part 3: ColdQuanta and PreTalen

Have you ever dreamed about being present when electricity was invented? When the first telegraph message came through? Or how about when the first plane flew?

I’m sure many people have had similar dreams – and then gone back to doing what they know how to do.

Some people, though, have dreamed and then decided to be there when the next big discovery is made, when the next crazy invention takes off. And they do that by pushing for new technologies and looking for new ways of doing things.

Colder-than-ice-cold atoms

Jayson Denney of ColdQuanta is one of those people. When I talked to Denney, he couldn’t tell me enough about the research his company is doing – and by research, I mean using lasers to manipulate atoms under vacuum to cool them to incredibly cold temperatures.

ColdQuanta’s roots lay in new discoveries: its CEO and founder, Dana Anderson, has collaborated with Eric Cornell, who won a Nobel Prize for the first demonstration of the fifth state of matter,  Bose-Einstein condensate. And now the company is doing what very few other people are doing: using the fundamental properties of atoms to power extremely precise technologies. The work, said Denney, is “quantum by definition.”

The two technologies they are bringing to the Accelerator are their Ruggedized Atomic Timekeeper – “lovingly called the RAT” – and a quantum-enabled signal detector for radio frequency (RF) signals. “We’re the core right now,” explained Denney, “around which other components can be added to create different technologies.”

The “quantum” aspect has multiple advantages. One is that both technologies are extremely precise (whether in timekeeping or detecting minute frequencies). The other advantage has become a catchphrase at ColdQuanta: “There’s no calibration needed.”

While ColdQuanta’s tech is extremely cutting-edge, they have one especially big challenge: their technology is so leading-edge, there isn’t a market for it yet. So, Denney and ColdQuanta are at the Accelerator to learn how to transition a technology for which there is currently no market space. But when it emerges, ColdQuanta is poised, ready to be there as the “heart” of those quantum technologies.

Synergy doesn’t happen solo

ColdQuanta is a good example of how companies can’t exist in isolation to be successful. Innovation often comes as a result of synergistic relationships.

Perhaps no one has expressed the desire for these relationships better than Rachel Reed from PreTalen. Reed gets that we’re going nowhere by ourselves. It takes people (and companies) with many different skillsets to create both new and beneficial technologies – which, by the way, is easy for government to say; industry, not so much, since they have to compete for business.

PreTalen is a women-owned small business focused on providing expert systems engineering support for space, navigation, electronic warfare and cyber security. They are proposing a transmitter that can transmit multiple user-defined, software-controlled navigation signals across the 1-2 GHz RF band.

“We think that collaboration is one of the biggest and best things you can do,” shared Reed. “We’re very interested in making new business connections so we can mind-meld a little.” Since no one is an expert in everything, PreTalen is using the Accelerator to meet people with different specialties to “create something new and innovative and something that can be beneficial to the warfighter.”

And they’re not just talking about new collaborations – they’re already collaborating with multiple other companies from the Accelerator.

Really, those connections are what the Accelerator is about. That’s why Rachel and her team, and Jayson and his team, are probably going to be there when the next big thing arises.

(This is Part 3 of a three-part article)

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Company Highlights Part 2: NOVAA, esc Aerospace and Braxton

Innovation can be hard to pin down. By nature, disruptive innovation isn’t exactly predictable. It often pops up in places we aren’t looking for it.

Thankfully, we’ve found ways to drastically increase our odds of innovation by putting people with different backgrounds in the same room for three months, for instance (hint: Catalyst Accelerator). But not just any people.

Closing in on innovation

Danny Stirtz serves as the Executive Vice President of multinational esc Aerospace. While his company brings fifteen years’ worth of knowledge in mission critical systems for space applications, cyber security and “all things drones,” Stirtz is looking for ideas for a commercialization strategy. “As a new company in the U.S., we’re not established. So, to a certain extent, we’re a startup company with a foundation elsewhere.”

The company is proposing a PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) receiver that takes signals from many different PNT sources to provide reliable PNT in environments where GPS is denied or degraded. For Stirtz, what the Accelerator does for his company isn’t new, per se, but it is a “forcing function.” But the forcing isn’t a bad thing: “Doing this type of thing is fun to me.”

While esc Aerospace has over a decade of experience, one Accelerator company has only a year: NOVAA, a startup that develops sensing and navigation solutions for challenging environments. Founder and President Markus Novak is proposing digital beamforming and machine learning assisted mapping of multi-path environments (translation: his technology helps you find your correct location when your GPS is confused).

NOVAA’s technology was mainly developed for self-driving vehicles; however, it can also have direct application to the navigation challenges overseas military personnel face on a regular basis. Novak saw the potential for overlap even before he started NOVAA: “I had these technologies incubating in my mind for some time throughout my previous work.” After he started the company, he found the Accelerator through the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research grants) portal.

At the Accelerator, he is hoping to “learn from all the experts” and “make the right connections to deliver solutions” so that in five years NOVAA technology will “be on the road, helping people [or warfighters!] get around.”

Heidi Wright, Director of Technical Marketing for Braxton Technologies LLC, also hopes to help her company grow in the coming years. Braxton is a small business headquartered in Colorado Springs. It develops and delivers commercial off-the-shelf products to outfit an entire satellite operations center and delivers ground control segments for various satellite missions and flight experiments. They are proposing to insert software-defined radio PNT transmitters and receivers into a “FlashMAPTM” architecture and validating communications to provide access to PNT information in GPS-degraded or -denied environments.

“We’re not relying on the Accelerator for sustainment,” Wright said. “It’s really to push the envelope and provide things that people aren’t doing right now. The Accelerator’s forcing us to and hash out the details of the market and technology.” She sees it as an opportunity to not only grow her company’s technology area, but also her own capability and knowledge. “I see a lot of potential, so that’s what I’m excited about.”

Solutions by and for people

By looking at companies like Apple – which is about as close as anyone has come to making innovation a process – we see that innovation is people-centric; that is, innovation is made for people, by people.

It’s people like Stirtz and Novak and Wright that drastically increase the odds of innovation. That’s why Catalyst Accelerator brings them all together –  because we believe that when you do, you produce not only innovation, but successful innovation that helps the people who inspired it.

(This is Part 2 of a three-part article)

Catalyst Accelerator PNT Cohort Highlights, Part 1: Third Insight, Nokomis Inc, and Echo Ridge

Tapping into small commercial industry to meet big needs of the U.S. military

The U.S. government needs new technologies. Other countries are coming out with them, it seems, every day (see here or here or here). But the process for getting those technologies is so complicated that it often turns away the very people who could best provide them: small businesses and entrepreneurs with cutting-edge technology.

This is why Politico recently asked, “Can space acquisition really be reformed?” It’s also why (as the article mentions) organizations such as the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate invest in programs such as Catalyst Accelerator. They acknowledge, as Air Force Space Command Chief General Raymond did, that “There’s an explosion of things happening in the commercial industry, and we want to capitalize on that.”

The people at Catalyst Accelerator are doing their best to find businesses whose technologies can meet the needs of the military and, ultimately, the warfighters whose lives are on the line. But while there is clearly a motivation on the government side of things, there must also be a reason for businesses to make the trip to Catalyst Campus every other week for three months to attend the Catalyst Accelerator.

 

Teaching business to scientists

There are several reasons for making the trip, many relating to commercialization and collaboration.

Take for instance Gareth Block, CEO of Third Insight, a small business consisting of five people.  While Gareth started the company because of his passion for innovation, it’s a challenge to manage the business side of the company: “Really, what I want to do is build great technology, but I need help taking it to market.”

Third Insight’s ECHO software app gives commercial off-the-shelf drones the ability to navigate autonomously in GPS-denied environments, while providing real-time 3D imaging and situational awareness to remote operators. The app could impact SWAT teams, fire departments and first responders, to name just a few. But great potential doesn’t automatically translate into a successful business. Accordingly, Gareth’s goal for his participation in the Accelerator is to put together a business model and figure out the key components of a commercialization plan, “so that when I go to fundraise, which I hope to do soon, I have my ducks in a row.”

Some of the companies in the Accelerator have been around for longer: Nokomis Inc. is a 16-year-old company from Pennsylvania that seeks to provide positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) signals in GPS-denied environments using the radio transmissions of commercial satellites already in orbit. Nokomis’ Senior Scientist, Dr. Cantwell Carson, expects his time at Catalyst Campus to “lay the foundation” for commercializing their recently developed technology.

The Accelerator, for Cantwell, is valuable for providing training on commercialization: “I’m a scientist. I don’t have an MBA. Being able to participate in this level of training so that I can acquire those other skills is invaluable.” But as valuable as the training is for Cantwell, the time and resources to implement that training are just as important.

On the opposite side of the country, in northern Virginia, another small business has been developing a technology for nearly 10 years. Echo Ridge does all things RF, and their proposed technology is a GPS-complementary receiver that allows users to estimate their PNT based on other signals besides those meant for navigation – communication signals, radio signals, etc.

Echo Ridge President Joe Kennedy thinks his company is ready to deliver. He joined the Accelerator to figure out how his technology can fit in with the bigger picture as well as break from the routine of his everyday responsibilities. “This is an opportunity to think about things that should be thought about but aren’t on a regular basis. And you are around people that’ll ask questions you wouldn’t ask routinely, so I think it’s going to be good.”

Third Insight, Nokomis Inc, Echo Ridge. They’re not exactly Lockheed Martin or Boeing. But, they are made up of people who have the technology to meet the needs of the military – not some big impersonal entity, but the needs of individuals warfighters. Through these companies the U.S. may unlock capabilities the world has never seen before. Who knew a commercialization plan could be so important?

(This is Part 1 of a three-part article)