Altius Space Machines Lands First Contract

I mentioned last week that Altius Space Machines signed its first contract, and I wanted to give a few details now that I’m no longer on travel. Altius will probably eventually start doing the traditional “press release” thing, but for now a simple blog post should suffice.

This first contract is for developing a small-scale avionics box and GN&C solution for a DARPA-funded project underway at Ventions LLC, of San Francisco, to develop, integrate, and flight-test small-scale propulsion technologies suitable for use in eventual nanosat launchers. The lightweight compact avionics box, including GN&C hardware and software, would provide all the electronic control and communication capabilities necessary to operate and guide a nanosat launcher upper stage to orbit. In many ways this is similar to the control boxes done by Armadillo and Masten, but on a much smaller, more compact and minimalist scale.

I’m really pleased with the opportunity to work with Adam London and his crew at Ventions. They’ve been mostly staying below the radar for the past few years, developing and testing innovative small-scale rocket propulsion hardware. They’ve got a very talented group, and I was really impressed to see the engine and pump solutions they’ve been coming up with. I look forward to working with them on this project as well as potential future efforts.

The other reason why I’m very excited about this contract is because it means that Altius is now able to bring on-board a key member of its technical team: my former MSS-colleague, Ian Garcia. Ian will be heading up this Ventions contract, and will also be leading other GN&C efforts here at Altius. Ian has been an amazing guy to work with over the years, and his talent and drive will be a great addition to Altius’ rapid prototyping team.

10 Responses
  1. MIke Garceau

    Woo Hoo! Ian gets to escape, your company is on its way, and I get to brag at Schooner’s about how I knew this guys when they were just starting to walk!

    Congrats, and best regards.

  2. no one of consequence

    Best of luck on the new venture. Your timing is impeccable – I believe we may be on the edge of a small explosion in new space entrepreneurship.

    Last month was in DC on the hill. Motivation can be found from the HLV nuts overplaying their hand and beholden to large stupid “vendors” . My read is that we are in for a rocky ride, and that there will be plenty of small opportunities created by the inability to support employment of large vendor specialty staff (or even long term NASA contract employees). Also, a lot of qualified space hardware is “too long in the tooth” to be modified. Congress is beginning to get that too much is outdated, and that they can’t play into the old biases as much without incurring failure as well.

    The key success for such a business is been indispensable to multiple different partners, and to build a brand using reputation which pulls you in to new opportunities.

    Looking forward to you getting your first three contracts from your first three partners.

    1. admin

      No one of consequences,
      Thanks for the kind words! You seem to be thinking along the same lines I’ve been thinking–there’s a lot of potential for collaboration between smaller companies like Altius, and the bigger primes. Both types of business have their strengths and weaknesses, and by partnering intelligently they can complement each other, and enable projects and capabilities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

      Anyhow, back to working on what I hope will be contract #2.


  3. Layne Cook

    Jon – Great to have you in Colorado. When you’re set up, I’ll stop by your new digs for a visit. Good luck, and we’ll stay in touch.

  4. How small a box does it need to be? Armadillo’s are pretty small, using PC104. John Carmack told me once (for publication, so I might as well quote directly):

    “All of our flight computers have used linux on PC104 hardware. I have explicitly avoided using any real time versions or kernel modifications / drivers of any sort. All of our hardware is operated through either serial ports or direct port IO, which I do directly from user mode.

    I originally started with parts of LEM- linux embedded and Peanut Linux for the dev tools, and I haven’t upgraded any of the system software in years. Unlike most embedded projects, I do all the building directly on the flight computer. I find it immensely cool to be able to telnet into our rocket, edit something, rebuild the control software, and have it go fly.”

    PC104 is pretty small. Since pixel was designed, however, even smaller form factors have become feasible. I have had daydreams (delusions) of re-purposing android (arm based) hardware for a variety of similar in-space exercises (think of an update to this: ) but for something as mission critical and rad-exposed as an upper stage flight controller, I just don’t know how small you can get….

    1. admin

      Yeah, the avionics box at Masten was also PC-104 based. We did a few things a bit different from Armadillo (like we used off-the-shelf H-bridges for motor control), but the size of our computer boxes was pretty similar. The computers system Altius is doing for Ventions will be *much* smaller. We’ll give updates if we can within the confines of the contract, but suffice it to say we’re talking at least an order of magnitude smaller than what is flying on Xoie or Mod.