Australian space start-up paves way for the final frontier

The director of Saber Astronautics has highlighted opportunities in Australia’s fledgling space industry, after his company was chosen as a finalist in the NewSpace Business Plan Competition.


Dr Jason Held is the founder and director of sister companies Saber Astronautics Australia, based in Sydney, and Saber Astronautics, LLC, which is incorporated in Denver, Colorado.


Saber Astronautics describes itself as “high-end artificial intelligence with 3D graphics for an end-to-end space options solution”.


“I finished by PhD in Sydney in 2008 and started up a US company from Sydney with some other partners there,” Held told StartupSmart.


“Just a few months later, I was starting the Australian version of the space company under the same name.”


“We’re working on the next generation of satellite controls. With a lot of controls, you know what goes wrong with the satellite but you don’t know why.”


“We’re packaging information in a way that is easy to use.”


Saber Astronautics has been chosen as a finalist in the 2012 NewSpace Business Plan Competition, which will see 10 space start-ups pitch to Silicon Valley investors.


The event, hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation at its annual NewSpace Conference, will be held this year at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley from July 26-28.


The start-ups compete for a $100,000 grand prize, a $10,000 second prize, and additional prizes from third-party sponsors.


The teams also have the chance to meet and network with space industry executives, investors and successful entrepreneurs who will be in attendance at the conference and serving as judges.


According to Held, there were 55 entries this year. Once each start-up has made their pitch, they will work with a business coach over several days and attend a start-up boot camp.


Surprisingly, Held says most of the research coming out of his companies is happening in Australia rather than the US.


“The space industry is a funny one here in Australia because it’s very niche. It’s much bigger in the US and most of the customer base we’re targeting is in the US,” he says.


But Held says Australia is “much more politically-friendly” than other nations, such as Russia and China, which puts it in good stead as an area for future expansion.


“Australia is like high real estate value for satellite control. Also, the workforce here is actually very well educated. There are a lot of teachings here that the US can learn from,” he says.


Held says while the Australian Government hasn’t made a huge effort with regard to supporting the space industry, there are “some small signs of change here”.


“I think there’s an opportunity commercially to do business in Australia but the opportunity for small business is much bigger than for a big business,” he says.


“With the money that comes out of Australia, there are a lot of developments happening in the US that Australia can capitalise on.”


“Small businesses and universities can get together and collaborate. For example, space tourism is ramping up.”


“The whole thing about being in Australia – and there being no space industry here – doesn’t bother me a whole lot.”


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