Kayhan Space, the Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta-based company launched from Techstars' virtual space-focused accelerator, wants nothing more than to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space.
Founded by two childhood friends, Araz Feyzi and Siamak Hesar, who grew up in Iran and immigrated to the U.S. for college, Kayhan is tackling one of the toughest problems that the space industry will confront in the coming years -- how to manage the exponentially increasing traffic that will soon crowd outer space.
There are currently around 8,000 satellites in orbit around the earth, but over the next several years, Amazon will launch 3,236 satellites for its Kuiper Network, while SpaceX filed paperwork last year to launch up to 30,000 satellites. That's a lot of metal flying around.
And somebody needs to make sure that those satellites don't crash into each other, because space junk has a whole other set of problems.
In some ways, Feyzi and Hesar are a perfect pair to solve the problem.
Hesar, the company's co-founder and chief executive, has spent years studying space travel, receiving a master's degree from the University of Southern California in aeronautics, and a doctorate in astronautical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He interned at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and spent three years at Colorado-based satellite situational awareness and systems control technology developers like SpaceNav and Blue Canyon Technologies.
Meanwhile, Feyzi is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded a company in the Atlanta area called Syfer, which developed technologies to secure internet-enabled consumer devices. Using Hesar's proprietary algorithms based on research from his doctoral days at UC Boulder and Feyzi's expertise in cloud computing, the company has developed a system that can predict and alert the operators of satellite networks when there's the potential for a collision and suggest alternative paths to avoid an accident.
It's a problem that the two founders say can't be solved by automation on satellites alone, thanks to the complexity and multidimensional nature of the work. "Imagine that a U.S. commercial satellite is on a collision course with a Russian military satellite," Feyzi said. "Who needs to maneuver? We make sure the satellite operator has all the information available to them [including] here's what we know about the collision about to happen here and here are the recommendations and options to avoid it."
Satellites today aren't equipped to visualize their surroundings and autonomy won't solve a problem that includes geopolitical complexities and dumb space debris all creating a morass that requires human intervention to navigate, the founders said.
"Today it’s too complex to resolve and because of the different nations and lack of standards and policy … today you need human input," Hesar said.
And in the future, if satellites are equipped with sensors to make collision avoidance more autonomous, then Kayhan Space already has the algorithms that can provide that service. "If you think of the system and the sensors and the decision-making and [execution controls] actually performing that action... we are that," Hesar said. "We have the algorithm whether it uses the ground-based sensor or the space-based sensor."
Over the next eight years the space situational market is expected to reach $3.9 billion and there are very few companies equipped to provide the kind of traffic control systems that satellite network operators will need, the founders said.
Their argument was compelling enough to gain admission to the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator, an early-stage investment and mentoring program developed by Techstars and the U.S. Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Space Agency. And, as first reported in Hypeotamus, the company has now raised $600,000 in a pre-seed funding from investors including the Atlanta-based pre-seed investment firm, Overline, to grow its business.
And the company realizes that money and technology can't solve the problem alone.
"We believe that technology alone can help but can’t solve this problem. We need the U.S. to take the lead [on policy] globally," said Feyzi. "Unlike airspace… which is controlled by countries. Space is space." Hesar agreed. "There needs to be a focused effort on this problem."