Presented by
Graham Bell

Nominated by
Monash University

 

NextAero is building a new type of rocket engine to make getting things to space cheaper using smaller rockets with shorter wait times. Satellites that were the size of a school bus are now the size of a toaster. Technology miniturisation has contributed to the reduction in size but the main driver has been the shift in the way they are used.

Big satellites were used to monitor things like vegetation growth, temperatures, and land use. The problem was that it could not revisit the same location for up to 3 months due to orbit changes, clouds, and time of day – not sufficient data for most businesses. Networks of smaller satellites can scan the globe every 15 minutes to provide many more data-points.

The rocket launching industry has not transitioned quickly to smaller satellites. The established launch industry has developed technologies for large launch vehicles, which are not suitable for small satellites. Small satellites benefit from using smaller rockets because they provide shorter waiting times for network expansion or repair, more precise orbits, and a more cost effective way to get to space. There is currently a significant backlog of satellites to be launched, some waiting up to two years for a ride.

NextAero is helping to build more efficient engines to help launch companies build smaller rockets, which results in more affordable rides to space with a reduced carbon footprint of 45%. The engines also reduce the number of moving parts to increase reliability for reusable launch vehicles.

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