Kayhan Space makes orbit safer with automatic, timely satellite collision warnings • TechCrunch
The orbital economy heats up, but the infrastructure that supports it begins to crack. Kayhan space is a startup that makes sure your satellite doesn’t crash into another – or a launch or space junk, for that matter – using modern data processing techniques and a web-accessible platform.
Kayhan presented at Disrupt SF today as part of Battlefield, and the company is considerably further along than when we covered them first; at the time, they were raising a pre-selection round, but now they have their feet under them.
Founded by old friends Araz Feyzi and Siamak Hesar, who reunited in the United States from Iran for school years ago, the company is tackling the natural result of increasing order of magnitude of satellite launches in recent decades: traffic.
Space may seem like a big place, but low Earth orbit is actually quite crowded, relatively speaking. With thousands of satellites zooming on all sorts of trajectories, and tens of thousands of space junk as well, the odds that your spacecraft will have to crumble a bit to avoid a screw going around 20,000 mph increase. When the orbits overlap to the point that a collision is possible, it’s called a “conjunction” – a more neutral term than “collision run”, certainly.
“There are a lot of satellite-on-satellite conjunctions; it’s less than 10% today, but the paradigm is changing,” Feyzi told TechCrunch. “The number of conjunctions is increasing as we track more objects and there are more active satellites – and we expect it to get worse.”
Worse not just in frequency, he explained, but in the decreasing time before a potentially catastrophic event occurs. This delay is very important, as last-minute maneuvers are both hair-raising and waste fuel – what could have been avoided by a small push a few hours ago becomes a longer emergency burn.
Normally, satellite operators report their positions and orbits to Space Command – that sounds impressive, but imagine a control tower at an airport that has suddenly grown to 10 times its normal size. They can’t do much, so fast, and they rely on operators calling in the latest data and changes.
With thousands of satellites in the sky, canceling conflicting orbits over a period of hours or days – and deciding what to do over the phone – is no longer a realistic option.
Kayhan strives to automate the process as much as possible using the most recent data available. Part of that is the government-maintained high-accuracy object database, yes, but there are other tracking sources as well, as well as real-time information from customers and anyone who puts them available. Their Pathfinder platform provides situational awareness, conjunction warnings, recommended new orbital trajectories – if you have the right thruster, it will even provide the boost.
“We use all this data and we have developed a lot of proprietary algorithms and processes. For example, we have developed a modern prediction engine that predicts the trajectories of objects, which allows us to very quickly calculate, simulate and re-simulate the movements of objects in space,” Feyzi said.
The turnaround time of a conjunction response is measured in minutes instead of days, but it is no less carefully considered, Feyzi continued:
“When you go to Pathfinder and look at the recommendations prepared for you, you can be sure that they are safe – we have screened them – and secondly, it is doable for you because it fits all constraints you have: your propulsion system, your contacts on the ground.
He also pointed out that these capabilities are not limited to, for example, how fast a radar antenna can rotate. Being a data-driven product, it can evolve arbitrarily. “The beauty of software and the way we’ve designed our infrastructure is that it’s easily scalable. We could board all the satellites available today and that wouldn’t be a problem for us,” Feyzi said.
Integrations with other satellite and mission management platforms are also coming – not everyone wants to work with a brand new tool, so data will be available via SDK.
You might be wondering if a pure dataset is defensible as a business. Feyzi admitted that others could very well try the same type of system, but Kayhan’s lead and expertise should not be underestimated.
“We have five PhDs in astrodynamics in our team today. The amount of data we process and the amount of processing we do is extremely heavy; unless you develop these core capabilities to operate effectively and efficiently, you cannot achieve what we are achieving,” he said. “If you have the data, the capital, the people, yes, maybe in two years you could grow the platform – no one has done it so far, but where we will be in two years is very different from where we are today.”
At this point, Kayhan himself is expanding his capabilities with a product now called Gamut, intended to offer the same kind of automated security checks, but for launches.
Planning launches isn’t just about waiting for good weather — you have to thread the needle to get the payload into the right orbit and in the right place, perhaps among dozens or hundreds of peers. As the number of satellites increases, the prospect of a carpool mission touching several different orbits quickly becomes a very complex logistical problem. And the catch is, if you miss your launch window by a few minutes, you need a new fix.
“We invented a new method that leverages GPU processing to process launch filtering an order of magnitude faster,” Feyzi said. This means launch companies can be prepared for more eventualities and move quickly on the paperwork and other official processes to follow to get a rocket into space. Gamut is still in development and testing, but you can expect to hear more as soon as they invest their final boost.
It’s clear that business in orbit is booming, and providing critical infrastructure could be the kind of game that puts Kayhan in the game for good.