Space Image

Starfish Space To Develop Satellite Guidance Software For US Air Force

Starfish Space has secured a $1.8 million investment from the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX technology accelerator to advance its groundbreaking satellite guidance software.

  • More details coming soon...
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Wed Aug 09 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Starfish Space has secured a $1.8 million investment from the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX technology accelerator to advance its groundbreaking satellite guidance software. The funding granted through a 18-month Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI), is earmarked for the development of Cephalopod, an innovative technology designed to enable satellites to dock with other spacecraft using only electric propulsion.

The primary objective of the TACFI is to accelerate the maturation of Cephalopod technology, making it suitable for both government and commercial servicing missions on a larger scale. The software's capabilities promise to revolutionize satellite docking procedures, potentially facilitating critical advancements in space exploration and satellite maintenance.

Starfish had intended to test the Cephalopod software using its miniature satellite demonstrator, Otter Pup.

The Otter Pup was set to rendezvous with an SN3 space tug, launched by rocket developer Launcher via a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission. Unfortunately, the mission encountered unforeseen challenges when an anomaly in SN3's attitude control system sent the space tug into a spin, causing early deployment of the Otter Pup along with other payloads.

The deployment of Otter Pup occurred under emergency conditions, leading to high rates of rotation and subsequent communication loss with the SN3. Despite these setbacks, Starfish remains hopeful and committed to the project. 

Starfish "is still in communication with Otter Pup and is actively working to address the challenges posed by its rough deployment...Each of these present hurdles we need to overcome to have a chance to pursue Otter Pup's mission of performing the first-ever docking of two commercial satellites in low-Earth orbit." - Ari Juster, Starfish Head of Strategy & Operations

Beyond its immediate goals, Starfish envisions a future where the Otter spacecraft which is larger than a mini-fridge can extend the operational lifespan of satellites in geostationary orbit through docking.

In low Earth orbit (LEO), Starfish intends to use Otter for tasks such as docking with defunct satellites, pulling them into de-orbit trajectories, and clearing debris from orbit.

Despite the setbacks encountered with Otter Pup, Starfish remains undeterred and the successful validation of Cephalopod's technology remains within reach as the company continues its development both in space and on Earth. The company's ongoing efforts include testing software in simulation and exploring alternative validation methods that don't solely rely on Otter Pup's completion of a full docking mission.

Starfish Space's endeavors have garnered significant attention and investment within the space industry. In March of this year, the company raised $14 million in a funding round led by Munich Re's venture capital arm, further highlighting the widespread interest and support for its innovative technologies.

With the backing of the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX technology accelerator and its own determination, Starfish Space continues to push the boundaries of what's achievable in the realm of in-orbit servicing and satellite technology.