What is Interesting is the Moment When I Find the “Edge” of technology. A Satellite Engineer’s Way that Began With Extraterrestrial Life Exploration.

The 7th member interview is CTO, Nagata. When we asked what made him decide to go on the path of space development, the word that came up was “extraterrestrial life.” He says that he is working on the space development driven by the desire to have an experience that overturns his common sense and to challenge cutting-edge technology. We asked Mr. Nagata about how he joined WARPSPACE and his future prospects.

School days immersed in satellite development

-Let us just start with, please tell us about your business.

We are mainly engaged in the development and design of optical communication, which is the core of “WarpHub InterSat”. The whole process is left to the project manager, and I focus on optical communication and consider the policy. In addition, as CTO, it is my role to propose and decide the management strategy of the company from the viewpoint of technology.

-Have you ever been involved in satellite or communication related development?

I have been working on satellite development since I was a student. Let’s start with the story of the University of Tsukuba satellite project, which is also the predecessor of WARPSPACE.

As a lover of space, when I was in high school, I decided to devote my college life to space. So, when I was researching where to go to school, I heard that the University of Tsukuba has a satellite project that I can belong to from the first year of the undergraduate, regardless of the laboratory, major, or grade, so I decided to join.

When I first joined the project, I had no record of launching satellites. So, I didn’t have any know-how on campus, so I was in a state of groping, but in the 6 years from the 1st year of the undergraduate to the 2nd year of the master’s course, I designed embedded systems, communication systems, substrates and structures, power supplies, and thermal vacuum, vibration, and radiation. I was able to experience almost all processes of cube sat development such as environmental tests. In the development of Unit 2, I was a student representative.

For satellite development, due to the launch of the rocket, we had to adhere to the schedule, so there was a time when we stayed up all night… I will never forget the moment when the satellite created with my friends moved in space. It’s all about my college days.

In addition, the undergraduate research on radiation resistance of parts and satellite cooling technology, and the master’s and doctoral programs on thermal control of large satellites.

Curiosity about the universe reheated by the Mars probe “Curiosity”

You said that you had decided to participate in the satellite project before you entered the university. What made you interested in space?

My dad loved astronomical things, so I had a lot of space-related books at home. I also remember sketching while looking at Mars with a telescope during the summer vacation. The experience of talking with my dad about the end and the structure of the universe inspired my curiosity about the universe. Also, I made my own planetarium.

-Did you make your own planetarium?

Yes. I liked crafts, so I made several generations while improving it.

Since junior high school and high school were devoted to sports, I was a little far from space, but I received a huge impact to learn about the mission of the Mars probe “Curiosity” of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

When I was a child, I was greatly influenced by the information that I read in the book, “Extraterrestrial life may exist,” and thought about the distant universe. I seriously believed that there was extraterrestrial life, and I thought I would definitely find it. However, as I grew up in junior high school and high school, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about dreams, and my thoughts on extraterrestrial life gradually diminished…

At that time, I learned that NASA was seriously looking for extraterrestrial life, and I felt that the flames that had been small in me suddenly burned up again!

The vague admiration suddenly felt real, and I also thought, “I want to spend my life looking for extraterrestrial life.”

-I feel like I can understand a little. But what motivates you so much in extraterrestrial life?

Mankind has only seen life on earth yet. I feel like what is happening on earth is everything in the world. In fact, so is I.

However, if we can get proof that there really are extraterrestrial life, our values ​​will turn over from the bottom. Life and perspectives on life change. I don’t expect to make a name for myself in history or make great discoveries. I just want to feel the exhilaration of the moment when I reach the truth of something, rather than “complete reversal”!

-You want to overturn common sense. By the way, when it comes to exploration of extraterrestrial life, I think there are various approaches such as biology and physics. Why did you decide to develop a satellite?

After all, when an extraterrestrial life is found, I want to know it earlier than anyone else. Then, what kind of person would it be? When I think about it, I think that he/she is the person who develops and operates the spacecraft that searches for extraterrestrial life. In addition, I was fascinated by the fact that I was able to make things that I originally liked and that they were connected to the goals of my life, so I decided to go on the path of satellite development.

Is Venture Experience Worth It? Or is it a risk?

-Why did you decide to join the WARPSPACE?

In the summer of my fourth year of university, it was the way back from the conference held in the United States with Professor Kameda, who was an advisor to the satellite project. Dr. Kameda proposed to me, “I’m going to start a company, so would you like to join us as CTO?”

-Really? You were in the middle of job hunting and graduate school entrance exams of 4th year college, right?

Before I was invited by my professor, I planned to work as a researcher at a university or space agency after going on to a master’s course or perhaps a doctoral course. So, I thought, “I would like to try it if I can gain experience in satellite development with one hand in the master’s course.”

I strongly sympathized with Professor Kameda’s desire to broaden the base of the space industry by reducing the cost of parts. I personally thought that the revitalization of the space industry would support the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

So in the winter of 2016, I joined WARPSPACE. And I cannot help talking about when I took a leave of absence from college and decided to join full-time.

That was the time when the company’s vision was settled with “Building a communication infrastructure in outer space.” Not only the development of the spacecraft itself, but also the communication line to bring the data acquired by the spacecraft to the ground is absolutely necessary.

If a private company like us creates an infrastructure in outer space and has it used, the spacecraft can concentrate on the mission and reduce the burden. That was exactly what I wanted to do.

-At that time, space ventures were rarely in the news as they are now, and it feels like a drastic decision. Did you have any doubts or anxieties?

I didn’t feel any risk. If I do it, I will gain the experience that ordinary people cannot get as much as I do. But, of course, the more time I spend on the WARPSPACE, the more time I can’t spend on other things. Whether or not you consider it a risk. I think that being involved in management as a venture is something that other people can’t do easily, and even if I take the time to research, I thought that I should take on the challenge.

Significance of venture companies working on space development

-What are the merits of the space industry by realizing the optical communication service of WARPSPACE?

Earth observation satellites are being launched one after another, but in reality, communication becomes a bottleneck, and it is often not possible to take images as desired or send images to the ground. It is a situation where we have to make a shooting plan while paying attention to communication.

In the future, we would like to provide seamless communication with the feeling that when we use 4G or 5G on the ground, we are “not aware of being connected, but connected.” For example, drones and IoT work without having to worry about communication. That is the goal.

-The world’s first commercial use of optical communication. Creating an unprecedented service is not an easy task, isn’t it? As CTO, how do you plan to lead the project?

After all, as a CTO, it is important to set a major development policy while looking at the cutting edge of optical communication technology. Not only that, it’s also important to know exactly what our users need. And it is also important to develop technology that can respond to that. The technical side is very challenging, and the development period and schedule are also challenging.

But it’s fun to know the gap between what you want to achieve and the technology. It becomes more interesting to know that “it cannot be miniaturized any more” and “it cannot be reduced”. Because this is the same as looking at the cutting edge of the field.

Looking at the movement of competition in the world, we can see what we will be achieved in what year and how much. How can we launch faster than our competitors and create better services? I am always looking for the best solution for WARPSPACE.

-Lastly, I would like to ask you about the WARPSPACE’s code of conduct, “Compass of Behavior.” Which is Mr. Nagata cherishing?

Our Compass of Behavior:
01. Leap
02. Goal oriented
03. Decide with fact
04. Chase one chance
05. Resilient spirit
06. Respect your crew
07. Love family
08. Adventure
09. Be attractive

When I review it in this way, I think that everything is good, but the first is “04. Chase one chance”.

Engineers try to aim for success as much as possible … I mean they try to avoid one time chance. In the special space industry, we cannot easily repair once launched, so the engineers tend to aim for a safe place with a high probability of success. It can be said that this attitude has supported the development of Japanese space development so far, but we at WARPSPACE are start-up companies. We should do what you couldn’t accomplish before.

Satellites of WARPSPACE aren’t outsourced to somewhere, they’re meant to create their own services. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the risk while looking at the entire service.

Accepting all the traditional safe designs can be time consuming. But, of course, safety cannot be abandoned. The important thing is to weigh speed and risk while making choices! I think that is the significance of venture companies working on space development.

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.