Customer Profile: Deep Space Industries

Deep Space Industries is a space technology company with the long-term goal of enabling human space settlement using in-space resources. In the short term, the company is working towards a series of low-cost space exploration missions using small spacecraft. DSI’s product line comprise the missing technologies needed to enable such low-cost interplanetary missions—in particular, propulsion systems that can be refueled using in-space resources, such as water—as well as novel avionics that can survive extreme radiation and temperature environments, and highly autonomous navigation and proximity operation techniques. Each of these innovations also represent salable products that can be used to enhance or enable other space missions closer to Earth.

Ultimately, DSI aims to satisfy a customer base today with products that can be serviced by in-space resources in the future. Spaceflight is a critical part of their plan to achieve this goal.

“We want to make it possible for humans to live and work in space, and to do that you need to use resources “in-situ”—this is the only way we’ve ever successfully developed and settled new places,” says Grant Bonin, CTO. “Smart companies in this space will be able to both ‘mine for gold’ and ‘sell pickaxes’ as the market for in-space resources and the technologies that need them evolve. As humanity expands into cislunar space and the rest of the solar system, the potential of the space resource economy is effectively unbounded.”

Before DSI begins mining asteroids, they are earning their stellar reputation by selling their asteroid spacecraft equipment to commercial customers closer to home. They have spent the last few years building clean, launch-safe propulsion systems for satellite constellations, notably for Virginia-based customer HawkEye 360’s first pathfinder cluster, which will detect and locate a broad range of radio transmissions from low-Earth orbit, which has great implications for transportation infrastructure monitoring. The first three HawkEye spacecraft, for which DSI is the mission prime, will launch in late 2017 on-board Spaceflight’s SSO-A rideshare. By 2020, DSI intends to fly its first asteroid microsatellite, called Prospector-1, which the DSI team is actively working on today. This spacecraft will start in LEO and make its own way to a destination of interest using a second-generation launch-safe, high-thrust propulsion system proprietary to DSI.

As DSI’s business model depends on access to space, the company is no stranger to launch service providers. The business depends on finding suitable rideshare opportunities to space, and at a low cost. Bonin’s team has been impressed with the experience they have had with the team at Spaceflight.

“We need to have a lot of options for launch. The wide range of vehicles Spaceflight can provide access to and support is unequaled by anyone else,” said Bonin.

Another reason they like launch vehicle flexibility: the unique form factor of their various spacecraft. “The first three HawkEye spacecraft use a unique separation system developed by the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory”, said Bonin. “Spaceflight’s ability to accommodate non-standard separation systems in a compact and clever way was impressive.” Joked Bonin: “I assume job applicants have to demonstrate their Tetris skills as a precondition to employment.”

However, it is Spaceflight’s deep experience in the industry and a hands-on, responsive team that really changed the game for DSI.

“With launch, there are always new challenges cropping up,” says Bonin. “There are always surprises. But the team at Spaceflight ensures we have no surprises. The process has been smooth.”

Key to providing a superior level of service is prompt and proactive communication with Spaceflight business development and mission managers. Bonin praised everyone in the organization he’s worked with.

While DSI is slated on an upcoming domestic launch, they are also looking down the road. Bonin says, “As we contemplate international launches, we know Spaceflight can help us navigate regulatory challenges as well. It’s nice to work with partners who are ahead of the issues for us and are willing to be flexible.”

Spaceflight is proud to be helping Deep Space Industries with their mission, on their next launch and beyond. Bonin is likewise enthusiastic:

“Our goal is to enable customers in low-Earth orbit, but also to open deep space for business. We see Spaceflight as a key partner for every part of the journey.”