Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Three Albuquerque-based companies and New Mexico State University will compete alongside nine out-of-state entities for $50,000 in cash prizes in this year’s Hyperspace Challenge.
Organizers of the challenge, now in its third year, selected a total of 11 companies and two universities to participate in the 2020 accelerator program, which will focus on developing new, innovative technology to help the U.S. Space Force provide satellites and spacecraft with remote, autonomous ability to manage problems.
The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base launched the annual challenge in 2018 in partnership with the ABQid business accelerator run by CNM Ingenuity. The program pairs participating companies with government contractors to resolve critical issues, potentially leading to contracts to build new technology for the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal entities.
The last two accelerators in 2018 and 2019 focused, respectively, on data analytics to manage reams of information received from space operations, and new technologies for small satellites. Of the 24 companies that participated in those programs,16 won government contracts.
New Mexico companies selected this year include:
n RS21, a data analytics firm that rapidly packages mounds of information into easily understandable formats.
n Perspective Components, which uses artificial intelligence in video-processing systems to provide autonomous “computer vision.”
n IDEAS, Engineering & Technology, which designs space-hardened electronic components and systems.
All three have unique innovations that could facilitate work with the DOD.
“One of our data scientists has created a machine-learning algorithm that could help keep satellites safe,” said RS21 president and CEO Charles Rath. “The Hyperspace Challenge offers an opportunity to collaborate with government program managers who might actually apply that technology in space.”
Erik Strobert of Perspective Components said his company wants to expand beyond private sector customers.
“This is an opportunity to focus on the defense industry, specifically the space industry, and that’s just too good to pass up,” Strobert said. “We use computer vision to increase system autonomy, which fits well with this year’s Hyperspace Challenge.”
IDEAS is developing new space-based computing and networking technology with machine-learning capabilities, said Engineering Director Jorge Piovesan.
“We’re hoping to get a bit more intimate interaction with (DOD) customers through the Hyperspace Challenge to tailor and optimize our systems to meet their needs,” Piovesan said.
University teams are competing for the first time this year, including NMSU and Johns Hopkins University. NMSU is working on navigation and control technology for satellites to conduct autonomous docking operations in space.
“We want to share knowledge and experience as we develop that technology,” said NMSU engineering professor Hyeongjun Park. “Twenty students are involved in the project, so there’s valuable educational and workforce development aspects.”
The challenge will culminate in an all-virtual “demo day” on Dec. 3 where participants will compete for a $25,000 first place prize, with $15,000 and $10,000 for second and third, respectively.