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The Open-Source Revolution in Outer Space

As part of our series of interviews with space and blockchain industry thought leaders, we had a chat with Fossa Systems’ Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder Julian Fernandez about issues around picosatellites, open-source space and the future of the space industry.

Fossa Systems is dedicated to the development of open- source picosatellites enabling experimental worldwide IoT connectivity and democratising space. Learn more about Fossa Systems here and check out their GitHub repository.

1. What made you decide to set up Fossa Systems?

Julian: My interest in space and COTS hardware spans back to 2017 when I started working on femtosatellites (Sub 100g spacecraft). I have also worked on various IoT related projects for remote asset monitorisation. This last experience further taught me the need for remote IoT connectivity.

Fossa Systems was initially created in response to the market need for inexpensive and fast solutions regarding worldwide connectivity. Our goal is to democratise access to space and telecommunications as a hardware manufacturer. This means developing inexpensive satellite platforms and operating these low-cost systems.

We actually started Fossa Systems as a non-profit project on an online forum in 2018. Back then, we were students and needed a cheap way of getting to space.

2. How does a free and open-source mentality contribute to the development of the New Space industry?

Julian: Our name Fossa Systems indicates Free Open Source Software and Aerospace Systems. As such, open source is a major part of our business model. We believe it is imperative that we develop space technology in an open manner for the benefit of all.

This can be perfectly linked to a successful business model as we are demonstrating with the launch of three satellites to this date. New Space is a rapidly developing and advancing industry where secrecy only constitutes an impediment to the general advancement of the market.

3. Tell us more about the FossaSat-1 and FossaSat-2 satellites and their applications.

Julian: Having learnt from the design of the FossaSat-1 satellite, which we launched in December 2019, we made improvements to the architecture and developed the FossaSat-2. This new picosatellite platform caters to the current market need for Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) telecommunications constellations and performance-oriented integrated solutions for customer payloads such as radio modules or Earth Observation (EO) sensors.

Based on the PocketQube platform, the FossaSat-2 is only 5x5x5cm big, and weighs a mere 250g. Its compact size and weight greatly reduces the current cost for access to space. Plus, it costs under 40,000€ (USD$44,000) for access to a 500km LEO with existing brokers.

Both the FossaSat-1 and FossaSat-2 are mainly used for telecommunications and are initially being tested with these payloads. But, they can also be used for other mission specific payloads such as EO cameras. In fact, the FossaSat-2 will be flying the first camera on a picosatellite into space.

You can find out more about each satellite here.

4. What will be the real-world applications for Fossa System’s work on LoRa technology for the internet of things?

Julian: LoRa was successfully tested on the FossaSat-1 satellite that we launched in December 2019. LoRa allows 3€ terminals to communicate with a satellite within ISM band limitations. It truly constitutes a major breakthrough in modulations that will allow the creation of global low-power IoT constellations.

We are currently planning on using our future LoRa services for remote asset management and other non-accessible terminals.

5. Which partners have Fossa Systems worked with in developing and launching your picosatellites?

Julian: Fossa Systems has been mostly funded by Everis Aerospace & Defense, a company of the NTT Data Group. We have worked with various large aerospace companies on the development of our technology and have most recently started working with the ESA Galileo Science Office for flying GNSS receivers on our satellites.

6. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in building Fossa Systems?

Julian: Building a New Space company definitely is not an easy job. It is such a new market and we are always adventuring into unknown territory. Our biggest challenge has already been undertaken with the launch of our first satellite. The next challenge is to establish ourselves as a respected and trustworthy hardware provider in the industry. We are also still studying the challenging possibility of offering services using our hardware in LEO.

7. Can you share some of your plans for Fossa Systems for the next couple of years?

Julian: Fossa Systems is in the process of registering a more formal commercial division to further advance the professional development of Fossa’s satellites in the growing market. Fossa Systems will always keep its initial values and objectives as a priority. We are opening our office in Madrid in the coming months and are looking to professionalise our production chain to take on more serious contracts.

8. How do you see the space industry developing in the short and long term?

Julian: With regards to the evolution of satellite size in the industry, we are definitely going to see further miniaturisation and advancement of COTS technology for LEO. I believe large mega constellations do not pose a serious risk to the market we are targeting regarding IoT, but they are starting to pose a serious risk to the cluttering of orbital planes.

This year alone we have had three close calls between our FossaSat-1 and one of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites. The COVID-19 pandemic also poses a serious effect on the short-term investment in satellite businesses (as apparent with the bankruptcy filing of OneWeb), but in the long term, I believe we will ultimately recover.

9. Which space technology developments most excite you?

Julian: We are very excited about the development of electric propulsion and are actually flying Pulsed Plasma Thrusters from Applied Ion Systems as one of our payloads. We look forward to seeing what electrospray technology brings to the table with regards to in-orbit manoeuvring technology.

10. How do you see blockchain contributing to the space sector?

Julian: Blockchain has actually been on Fossa System’s radar since its creation. We believe it will have and is already having a significant impact on the way we are able to safely communicate and store data in a decentralised manner. We are starting to see immense progress in this field such as the use of cubesats for carrying out blockchain transactions in space.

11. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs thinking about starting their own space startup?

Julian: It is important to have a clear and differentiating goal when creating a startup. There are lots of competitors in the New Space market at this stage, and lots of them have years of experience behind them. Patience and determination is important, but what seems like the most important quality is speed. Clients expect fast turnaround solutions, and in this industry, you have to constantly run to keep up with the rest. In part, this is our philosophy at Fossa Systems which is quite distant to what we see in larger and older satellite hardware manufacturers.

12. What are your thoughts about the Decentralised Satellite Infrastructure (DSI) that SpaceChain is leading and developing?

Julian: As a hardware manufacturer and service provider, we see SpaceChain’s ideas of creating a DSI completely align with our ideas and values. We hope to be able to work with SpaceChain on implementing and getting their technology into LEO using our platforms.

Click here to check out our other interview series with SpaceChain COO Alessandra Albano.

Keep up-to-date with all of SpaceChain’s developments via Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter on our website for our latest news.



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