How CNM is Helping Develop the Next Generation of Space-Focused Tech Startups

Through Hyperspace Challenge, a jointly run business accelerator, the college is bringing together government, startup, and university communities to create innovation in space
August 19, 2020

Right now, a company called SmartCone is trying to figure out how American astronauts might set up an internet of things system when they land back on the moon later this decade. That project is the result of the Hyperspace Challenge, and one of many that could change how the world operates in space.

Hyperspace Challenge was designed to accelerate collaboration and foster contracts between startups in the space technology sector and government and military agencies. The program is run by the Air Force Research Laboratory and CNM Ingenuity for the U.S. Space Force and will be starting its third cohort this October. 

“The Air Force wanted to connect with the most innovative companies in our country and often those companies are startups,” says Roxanne Aragon, the CNM Ingenuity Program Director for Hyperspace Challenge.

Last year the theme was “Small Satellite Technologies” and companies worked toward developing satellites that ranged in size from a small car to less than a foot in length. This year’s theme is “Trusted Autonomy “and the program is looking for startups that can provide the government and participating military agencies with secure, trustworthy autonomous and automated solutions for space. Questions the accelerator hopes companies can help answer include: 

  • How can we achieve next-level autonomy in remote environments for servicing of modules or vehicles?
  • How can we improve automatic hazard detection and avoidance to enable safer operations in space?
  • How can we leverage machine learning for autonomous vehicle control in space?

“We are excited to meet this new cohort and see how their technology can address these needs,” says Gabe Mounce, Program Director for U.S. Space Force Accelerator Programs. “Over the past two years, the connectivity that this accelerator has provided to its cohort participants has significantly benefited their ability to serve not only the commercial market, but address the government’s needs and connect to government customers.”

Normally, Hyperspace is an in-person program, but everything this year will happen online. Interested startups first attend a webinar series and answer questions from the advisory committee. Then applications are due Sept. 10. Once accepted, companies will be in the accelerator from Oct.-Dec. All the selected companies will participate in virtual customer discovery sessions with government scientists and compete for cash prizes via a live pitch event at the Space Startup Summit on Dec. 3. 

The success rate for participating companies has been high. Since launching in 2018, 16 of the 24 Hyperspace Challenge companies have gone on to sign government contracts, reporting over $7 million in new revenue for these small businesses. Roxanne says she’s excited to see how the new cohort continues that success.

“This is an exciting time for space, not just in the U.S., but particularly here in New Mexico, and we’re thrilled to be supporting the startups who will be building the future of space exploration,” Roxanne says.