ElevationSpace — Accelerating entry to the space market! [Space Brothers Collab #20]
“Space exploration” describes a wide range of developments and their objectives.
In this series, we will contemplate the present and future of space development with astronaut Serika Ito, who has been appointed Chief Dream Officer of Warpspace.
For our 20th interview, we welcomed Makiko Muto, who is in charge of public relations at ElevationSpace. This startup develops satellites for scientific experiments in space and asked her about her business concept and what she hopes to achieve through her services.
Satellite for Space Experiments, Technology Demonstration in 2025
Serika: Hello, Makiko-san! I heard that ELS-R, the space environment utilization and recovery platform being developed by ElevationSpace, can conduct experiments in space. I was looking forward to hearing more about it!
Makiko: I’m Makiko Muto from ElevationSpace. It’s nice to meet you too.
Serika: Quickly, what is the Space Environment Utilization and Recovery Platform?
Makiko: We launch unmanned satellites and use them to conduct experiments and demonstrations. After the experiments are completed, we return the satellite to Earth and deliver the results to our customers.
The technology demonstrator is scheduled for launch in 2025. We had planned to put a few customers’ payloads on this technology demonstrator. However, more companies than expected expressed an interest in using the payloads, so the number of slots available for the payloads on the demonstration flight was filled.
Once the technology is established in the technology demonstrator, the service spacecraft will be operated. This will be a rideshare mission. For example, we can group a launch with customers with the same experimental period. The technology demonstrator is 200 kg, but we are considering making the service spacecraft a little larger, depending on the customers’ needs.
Serika: I heard that the demonstrator plans to build an experimental environment using a fingertip-sized microscopic observation device that IDDK is developing (Make Bio-Experiments in Space Accessible [Space Brothers Collab #18]). What other experiments can be conducted using the ELS-R?
Makiko: The ELS-R can be used not only for medical and biological experiments such as those conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) but also as a place for companies that want to enter the space business to establish a track record in space. We believe that the ELS-R will help private companies to enter the space market by demonstrating that their products and technologies have worked in space and can withstand the space environment.
Unmanned mission realizing a flexible operation
Serika: Many space experiments have been conducted on the ISS, and I believe that space experiments will also be conducted on the commercial space station that will be constructed in the future. What are the differences between these manned facilities and ELS-R?
Makiko: Since the ELS-R we are developing is unmanned, it may not be able to perform experiments that involve complex operations like those performed by astronauts on the ISS. However, since astronauts in manned facilities must not be exposed to danger, the safety screening of onboard experimental equipment is very strict. This safety screening process takes time, which increases the lead time from conception to experimentation, making it impossible to conduct experiments at a high frequency.
On the other hand, since our ELS-R is an unmanned environment, safety screening can be done relatively easily, and we can conduct experiments using materials that would be difficult to bring into a manned facility.
Furthermore, in April 2023, we started co-creation activities with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the “High-Frequency Re-entry and Recovery Project from Low Earth Orbit Bases” under the JAXA Space Innovation Partnership framework.
Until now, samples from experiments conducted on the ISS could only be brought back to the ground at limited times, such as when they were placed in an available space on the spacecraft from which the astronauts were returning.
JAXA has demonstrated a technology to bring back materials from the ISS to the ground in a compact recovery capsule using the opportunity of the HTV’s re-entry into the atmosphere after its mission on the ISS. However, it still needs to be practical on a high-frequency basis. In the co-creation project with JAXA, we aim to increase the frequency of sample retrieval from low Earth orbit with our technology.
Serika: I have heard that it is difficult to develop technology to re-enter the atmosphere and return from low Earth orbit without burning up.
Makiko: Yes, that’s right. So far, only a limited number of countries have the technology for atmospheric re-entry, and the only private company that has achieved this is SpaceX. In the case of SpaceX, it is a manned spacecraft that re-enters the atmosphere, but a small satellite like the one we are developing, controlled to land on a targeted spot and return to the Earth’s surface, is still in existence. There has yet to be a private company.
There are startups overseas that are developing space experiment platforms using satellites. This is evidence that there is a need for services to conduct experiments and demonstrations with such kinds of spacecraft. We will develop such services to commercialize them as soon as possible.
Together with diverse members
Serika: What do you think are ElevationSpace’s strengths compared to other companies?
Makiko: It is the strong joint research and collaboration with JAXA, the only organization in the world that has conducted controlled re-entry and recovery of small satellites! For example, Dr. Yasuhide Watanabe, who led the project to develop a small recovery capsule for the HTV at JAXA, is our technical advisor. Dr. Kazuo Fujita, who was involved in developing the Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 spacecraft that delivered asteroid samples to Earth and is considered a leading researcher in atmospheric re-entry technology, onboarded ElevationSpace recently as an employee.
ElevationSpace was founded by CEO Ryohei Kobayashi while he was a graduate student at Tohoku University. Still, the company comprises a diverse group of people with backgrounds ranging in their 20s to 50s.
One of the company’s values is “Who Dares Wins,” which refers to the motto of the British Special Air Service, and I think it fits us perfectly. It is a wonderful thing about the company that every member has a passion and thinks about how to make it happen.
Serika: By the way, Makiko-san, how did you come to join ElevationSpace?
Makiko: I was originally an employee of Tohoku University and came across ElevationSpace after interviewing a graduate, Mr. Kobayashi. At the time, I thought, “It’s amazing that a student could start a business,” and “Space, huh?”. At the time, my youngest child was graduating from nursery school, and I was thinking about changing my work style so that I could specialize in something. I looked at ElevationSpace’s job openings and saw they had an opening for a corporate position, so I decided to join the company. I am now in charge of public relations.
In a startup, “we are making the first page of history. I enjoy the feeling that we are taking steps in the direction we want to take and the direction the company wants to go!
We want to be the “window to the space market”
Serika: What do you hope to achieve through demonstration and experimentation with ELS-R?
Makiko: Some people may think that the ISS is a good place to conduct experiments in space, but only a few experiments and research can be conducted on the ISS. Priority is given to experiments and research of a public nature, and it is not something that everyone can use casually.
Our company mission states that we aim to “create a world where everyone can live in space and enrich the future of humanity.” We hope to be the first company to serve as a window for various companies entering the space industry as the market expands. I hope ElevationSpace becomes the first point of contact for various companies entering the space industry.
As we become the window to the space market, there may be more rival companies. Even if that happens, more companies entering the space market will create competitive suppliers, which is good for the Japanese economy and may lead to innovation. To this end, we need to expand the market base first.
Serika: A window to space is wonderful. In some cases, technologies and products developed for space are being used for life on the ground. Once ElevationSpace’s ELS-R begins full-scale operations, we will see more and more of these technologies and products. Thank you very much!
The 20th guest in the series of conversations with Astronaut Serika was Makiko Muto, who is in charge of public relations at ElevationSpace.
In the next issue, we will welcome Mr. Kengo Suzuki, CTO of Euglena, one of the companies conducting space experiments with ElevationSpace’s technology demonstrator. We will ask about the possibilities of Euglena x Space. Please look forward to it!