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Startups Push Aerospace Innovation

Technology accelerator event features blockchain, cybersecurity and propulsion systems.
Latest from startups presenting during Starburst Accelerator's U.S. Selection Committee offer innovative aerospace technology, including a new imaging sensor from Owl Autonomous Systems. Credit: Owl Autonomous Systems.

Latest from startups presenting during Starburst Accelerator's U.S. Selection Committee offer innovative aerospace technology, including a new imaging sensor from Owl Autonomous Systems. Credit: Owl Autonomous Systems.

Entrepreneurs developing lightweight propulsion systems for satellites, cybersecurity for Linux, wireless power and a blockchain application for secure part procurement, among other emerging technologies, presented their technologies to investors, the military and industry. In 10-minute intervals, the company representatives pitched their early stage, aerospace-related technologies at Starburst Accelerator’s third U.S. Virtual Selection Committee meeting on July 9th, which was held virtually. Headquartered in Paris, Starburst's U.S. team brought in the eight hopeful companies, all vying for partnership agreements, venture capitalist funding and a chance to join Starburst's Accelerator Program. The startups’ prospective products range in level of technical readiness and prototyping stages.

As an aerospace technology incubator, Starburst has been operating for almost 7 years. Initially, the accelerator held specific events targeted at specific stakeholder groups, such as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force or certain investor groups, explained Van Espahbodi, co-founder and managing partner at Starburst.

Today, Espahbodi said, they are constantly scouting emerging technology solutions for 50 clients in eight countries across 21 aerospace markets, from quantum sensors, to cybersecurity, to new energy sources and propulsion, he said.

The eight companies featured in the U.S. Virtual Selection Committee event included: 

The Pasadena-located company is developing a radio frequency-based power source. The technology sends RF waves through the air from a transceiver to a receiver, providing power for systems or devices. The system operates over several different frequencies, such as 5.8 gigahertz (GHz), up to 24 GHz, enabling millimeter wave applications. The startup is prototyping 24 GHz systems, and is working on space-based applications, said Florian Bohn, CEO and co-founder of Guru. With no moving parts, the straightforward technology is fully scalable, modular and safe, he added. The company has designed desk and room systems, platforms for intelligent robots and satellite communications systems. “Over the air power everywhere is the way of the future,” Bohn said. He predicted that RF power will eliminate the need for power cables, just as Wi-Fi technology has decreased the need for Ethernet cables.

The Bellevue, Washington-based company is offering comprehensive cybersecurity for Linux. This type of so-called moving target defense is applied to the entire stack, across the major computing attack vectors such as memory, script injection and configuration errors, explained Alexander Gournares, CEO of Polyverse. They have three products: Polymorphing for Linux, Polymorphing Build Farm; and Polyscripting, all of which run on any “flavor” of Linux, such as Alpine, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu. The cybersecurity platform creates diversity in the binary code. “It looks like Linux, it smells like Linux,” he said, but it is actually a unique version of Linux for that user. Polyverse’s products can also be applied to legacy systems and is scalable. The company’s largest single deployment runs on one million servers. And Gournares cites the U.S. Navy and Legal Shield as customers. “If your system runs Linux, we can help you,” he shared.

Interstellar, a small, veteran-owned business that specializes in innovative design and manufacturing of propulsion and space systems, is producing 3D-printed hydrogen engines for beyond-earth-orbit applications, said Jeff Thornburg, CEO and CTO. Their Phoenix hydrogen engine will help enable hypersonic technology.

SteamJet Space Systems, based in Ashford in the United Kingdom, has created a water-based propulsion system for satellites, said Macro Pavan, co-founder. The system relies on low pressure water as the propellant, which is low risk and easy to integrate into a satellite system, he stated. With more and more satellites designed to be about the size of a shoebox, the company saw a need for advanced design of propulsion systems that are small yet scalable. For example, one product, the TunaCan Thruster, is about the size of a tuna can. The propulsion systems are ideal for CubeSats or nanosats, or satellites under 150 kilograms. The company also is producing an attitude control system to work with satellites weighing more than 1,000 kilograms.

Serious:Labs, based in Edmonton, Canada, specializes in virtual reality high-fidelity training solutions designed to improve job performance. The company is offering virtual reality full-motion simulators for heavy equipment. The plug and play system is “very simple,” said Jim Colvin, president and CEO. “COVID-19 has accelerated the need for these type of learning modalities,” he noted. 

SyncFab’s blockchain platform allows original equipment manufacturers, purchasing and engineering departments to source, procure, track, secure and pay for precision parts, according to SyncFab’s CEO and founder Jeremy Goodwin. The supply chain is the weakest link as far as cybersecurity defense, he said, and their hybrid blockchain system works for internal supply chain management as well as externally sourced parts and equipment.

Culver City-based Cluster, a woman-owned small business, has designed a vertically-integrated online marketplace for labor, matching prospective personnel with jobs and training at aviation, aerospace, defense and automotive companies in the United States. Their job and training platform pulls the certification data of potential employees and supports placement in 30 engineering roles. The software works with existing job search and recruiting systems and runs on a subscription model that allows employers to scale up or down recruitment as needed. “We can’t rely on ‘normal’ job search tools” in this environment, said Kim Taylor, founder and CEO.

Owl Autonomous Imaging has developed a new type of sensor—optical fusion—an intelligent 3D thermal imager for use on autonomous cars and systems. The high-definition 3D thermal imagers from the San Francisco-based company work in any kind of weather or environmental conditions—rain, fog, snow or smoke. The systems operate during the day as well as at night under nominal ambient lighting, explained Chuck Gershman, president, CEO and co-founder. The imager detects and classifies objects, while calculating position, direction and speed or 3D-velocity. “No other solution provides this capability in a single sensor,” he said.


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