What they do: Bagaveev is developing reusable 3D-printed rockets for nano-satellite space delivery. They’ve already engineered the first 3D printed rocket engine. Next they’ll design the fuel injection and guidance systems so they can start launching satellites within two years. The first rocket launch test is scheduled for April 18th 2015. Why it's a big deal: We'll no longer have to wait two years (the current backlog) to catch a ride on an expensive large rocket. Plus, at up to 80% cheaper, it'll be affordable even for startups. Companies and research teams will be able to plan and launch 25 pound nano-satellites every week, enabling quick design iteration and experiment changes. But small rockets are only the first product for Bagaveev - the first hurdle. Their decades-long vision is to build larger rockets, human space habitats, and nuclear propulsion.
Air Defense Artillary Officer for U.S. Army, Engineer at XCOR Aerospace, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univerisity, Purdue University
Why people love us
Because the founder, Nadir, is one of the most inspirational people we've met, and we believe he has the engineering chops and drive to make it happen. If you have time, listen to our podcast with him, and decide for yourself. Nadir quit his top-secret Army job and put aside a cushy gig at Xcore to come to California and build his own rockets. That takes balls.
Also, enabling more researchers and startups access to space is super important for the next big leaps in energy, agriculture, and human colonization. Nadir started with the smallest thing to get them to space, but nano-satellite launch is just the tip of their vision. They’ve already made the first huge leap in rocket science since the 60s with the first fully 3D printed rocket engine - not even SpaceX does that.
Space exploration, nuclear propulsion, these are the ideas that get us pumped at Wefunder.
We’ve started with 3D printing of small 3-ton rockets for nano-satellite delivery. Companies and research teams no longer have to wait two years to catch a ride on a government rocket. Innovators will be able to plan and launch 25lb nano-satellites every week, enabling quick design iteration and experiment changes. Our longer term goals include: space accessibility for startups and innovators everywhere at any time, elimination combustion propulsion with nuclear rockets, and the first real self-sustaining space stations.
What are nano-satellites and how do they get into space right now?
Nano-satellites are small satellites between 1kg and 10kg used for research and imaging. Currently startups and research teams must apply for limited piggyback spots on large rockets which only launch ~12 times per year. The average wait time for a ride to space is two years, and continues to grow as the current wait list is 1,000 nano-satellites (and teams) long.
Are these nano-satellites research or start-up focused?
Approximately 60% are research and 40% are start-ups.
So how did you come to build your own rocket company?
I was taught by my dad to build rockets when I was seven, and have been building them ever since. Eventually I got my aerospace engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and my masters from Purdue. I’ve also been an officer in the United States Army as an air defence artillery officer, shooting rockets at airplanes.
Just before this I worked for a company called XCOR which is also a rocket company that develops the rocket plane that will take tourists to space for 15 minutes on a sub-orbital flight for $100,000. I liked working there, it was a comfortable job, but I don’t like being comfortable. I felt that I needed to push myself to the extreme and the only way I could do it without disrupting the culture of the company was to start my own. So that’s why I came to Silicon Valley to run around and figure it out. This might be insane, but it’s not impossible. It’s just one of the braver projects out there.
Where does your drive for space come from?
Space exploration has evolved very little since the first push in the 60s and early 70s. But space holds so much more potential than just landing on the moon. For instance, the energy debate limits itself to resources here on earth, but every second the sun produces enough energy for mankind to live for 200,000 years. We can find so many ways to harness this energy out in space. Space holds infinite possibilities for human survival and advancement - I want to get out there and explore these problems where we can actually find exciting, groundbreaking answers.
So how did you arrive at nano-satellites and the rocket size you’re building?
Well just like anything in Silicon Valley there’s a minimum viable product. I asked myself: what’s the smallest thing with rocketry I can build that eventually I can scale up to a billion dollar business? And the smallest thing, the smallest orbital thing, would be launching nano-satellites to orbit. Plus the sub-orbital market is overgrown with amateurs, and we want to position ourselves as the professionals for small orbital (actually space, where real research is conducted) satellites.
How did you get started?
I just started applying to different accelerators, I thought that would be a good way to establish myself and the first person who responded was Adam Draper because he wants to build an Iron Man suit. He was sad when I told him the Iron Man suit wasn’t likely, but he brought support from much of Hollywood, and then I went through his Boost accelerator. We got some investment afterwards and that allowed us to establish ourselves in Half Moon Bay, start experimenting and now we’re onto the next level.
Tell us about the team?
Our team consists of three people; myself, an electronics engineer and a technician who helps us assemble the rocket. We also have two turbo-pump and guidance consultants which we want to bring on full time after this funding round.
So the long term vision for you is to be a full fledged, SpaceX like company?
I want to build the largest space corporation in the solar system, so hopefully yes, we will be larger than SpaceX. Soon space transportation will be a routine thing, people will go to work in space, orbit the moon on a weekend or even go to Mars. The larger goals are human habitats in space and new types of propulsion like nuclear rockets because that’s the way the solar system is going to be colonised.
What have you built so far and what remains to be done?
Any rocket has three major components: the rocket engine, turbo-pump (fuel injection), and the guidance system. And every rocket is split into lower-stage (larger rocket for initial launch) and upper-stage (smaller rocket for orbit control). So far we’ve built an upper-stage engine, which requires us to build the other two things, the turbo-pump and guidance system. We then must repeat the same process for the lower stage rocket, which is ten times larger. But the larger rockets are, the easier they are to engineer and build. Of course it’s a very funny way to say it, but we’ve accomplished about 20% of our goals that will get us to space.
How is your approach different than SpaceX?
There’s two separate rockets that any space company needs to build, a larger to get you out of the atmosphere and a smaller to keep you in orbit. SpaceX cheated a bit by multiplying the same rocket 9 or 10 times as a substitute for a proper lower-stage rocket. We would rather build our own large rocket and engine because we want to be proficient in larger scale rockets. Otherwise we’ll never be in a position to revolutionize propulsion and rocketry for the next phase of space exploration.
What is wrong with the SpaceX rockets?
SpaceX developed their own rockets, but they’re based on the same 1960s technology that brought our guys to the moon. We are trying to change the field by completely redesigning both rocket engines and turbo-pumps with 3D printing which will dramatically decrease the labor that goes into both developing and manufacturing them. The only 3D printed components SpaceX uses are for the escape system. But I hope they continue to use 3D printing, more competition is fun and results in faster progress.
When do you think you’ll be ready to actually launch nano-satellites?
My best guess is that we’ll be sending satellites to space in two years. As we better understand how to divide our teams, and engineer in tandem we’ll refine our timeline and set more concrete goals.
Can you tell us about your first upcoming test launch?
We are showcasing and testing our first upper-stage engine. We want to show the world that our upper stage engine is ready, that we have reached our first milestone. Plus, rocket launches are always cool. Later on we will be able to use this practice launch to refine our operations for actual space launches. But it’s mostly designed so investors and people who are fascinated with our field can look and say, ‘Wow, they are actually launching something!”
If the rocket ignites and leaves the launchpad that will be a successful test launch. As long as it goes vertical and the engine doesn’t melt it’s considered a success. We just want to get airborne.
What are the issues with government funding?
The problem with dependence on grants is you spend about 50% of your time doing paperwork, instead of 100% of your time engineering. And end up designing whatever the government tells you to design which is the wrong approach. Designs have to appear in the heads of entrepreneurs and creators, not in the heads of bureaucrats and then pushed down to engineers via funding contracts.
Specifically, government financing forces rocket companies to launch from a military jet, which eliminates the civilian market. Instead of just two rockets, these companies have two rockets and an airplane to deal with as an engineering problem.
Are these government funded competitors going after the same market as you?
Yes it is the same market, the quick launch of nano-satellites would be very valuable to the government and military. These satellites can take pictures anywhere on the planet within 30 to 60 minutes. They’re providing an invaluable service to government, but we will be capable of doing that too, we just don’t want government telling us how to do that.
What does the market look like?
I hope most of it will be startups and researchers. But the government can sign some big contracts, so we’ll also provide all the capabilities that government will require. Ultimately our goal is to allow people to start innovating in space, discover new materials, or new drugs, or new organisms, and take pictures of earth. My primary mission is to open up space to Silicon Valley. All the innovation that is happening in the internet can start happening in space via nano-satellites.
How much does someone pay to get their nano-satellite into space right now?
The average cost is $80,000 per satellite on a government ride, and the average wait time is about two years. But government regulations are strict, and any materials or chemicals that might hurt the large rocket are strictly forbidden. These rules are prohibitive for many companies trying to push the boundaries of science. We want to change that.
How much are you paying per launch compared to SpaceX and the Gov’t?
Big rockets cost approximately $50 million per launch or more, and $50 million is a big drop thanks to SpaceX. Our launches will cost ~$250,000 per launch, and fit 1-10 satellites depending on their size. When we’re able to save and reuse rockets that price will drop.
How much will you charge?
Every Kg will cost customers ~$100,000. We’ll be able to launch a single 10kg satellite for a million dollars or ten 1Kg satellites for $100k each.
What’s next? After nano-satellites?
Our goal is to become a big aerospace company. Nano-satellites and their launch rockets are not the only product, they’re merely our entry point into space.Additionally we are merely a part of the underlying ecosystem of space exploration - a part of a very exciting ecosystem taking back control of the final frontier. We can’t wait.
The intermediate goal is a two person rocket - quite the honeymoon! But the longer term vision is a 300 person space station - completely enclosed ecosystems so humans will not be dependent on earth anymore. Those are almost like spores of mankind that can grow in space and land on different planets and continue the growth of mankind. Another interesting field for me is different types of propulsion, such as nuclear propulsion, because current chemical propulsion will soon be obsolete. To cover large distances we need the next level of energy. Burning provides one level of energy, but nuclear reaction provides you with a way different level of energy and that is energy that I want to harness. This limitless energy is my duty as an engineer.
What does space mean to you?
I’ve thought about it a lot myself and I think at the very basic level it’s a human desire to continue exploring. Most people think about it as just, ‘Let’s go travel to a different country.’ This is the same desire, it’s just multiplied ten times. I haven’t travelled too much, but I’ve been to several places in the world and it feels like I’ve seen the world already, I want to see something that never has been seen, that has been seen only by a select few, and eventually show it to the rest of the world, to let the world marvel at the beauty of space. I think that’s what drives me the most, to open it for myself and to open it to others. I think that’s my drive.
What is your biggest challenge?
I would say that there are two challenges. One of them is the technical challenge. The other is human - human inertia. It’s difficult to jumpstart humanity, to convince people that “New things await us, stop thinking about the next messaging app, start thinking about space.” Some people understand that, my early investors, Tim Draper, Matt Oko, etc. I hope soon other people will understand this too.
What else do investors need to know?
I can say right now I just a wish for people to be brave. It took bravery to come to Silicon Valley and do this, for investors it will take a little bravery to start investing into a rocket company, but the outcomes, hopefully for all of us, are going to be immense. It’s opening something absolutely new.
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