September 14, 2016
Space technology startups are getting more attention than ever – in 2015, $1.8 billion in venture capital was raised by space startups. Whether it’s building rockets or capitalizing on the data being captured by satellites, a new “space race” is getting attention from Silicon Valley to…Ukraine.
That’s right: Ukraine. With over 60 years of rocket building experience and space culture, there’s a little-known space city called Dnipropetrovsk that’s becoming a powerhouse of space talent and innovation.
Dnipro Space City
Dnipropetrovsk (recently renamed to Dnipro) is Ukraine’s third-largest city with just over 1 million inhabitants. The city was closed to foreigners until long after the end of the Cold War because of its top-secret rocket innovations. The Yuzhmash rocket plant, which began producing missile and rocket technology over 70 years ago, is the reason that locals have always referred to this area as Space City.
Some of the most prominent aerospace universities, a rocket building community college, and a Space Museum have all call Dnipro home. And now, Dnipro brings the Space City concept to the startup world with a new Innovation Center, called SPACEHUB.
Innovation for Space Technology Startups in Ukraine
SPACEHUB offers an inspiring event space, coworking facility, and tech laboratory in addition to the mentorship available through the incubator.
Startups affiliated with SPACEHUB participate in startup competitions all over Europe and have access to mentorship events from startup thought leaders across the globe.
Recently, SPACEHUB hosted the Spacer Hackathon and Conference, a two-day event held over May 28-29. Entrepreneurs and space enthusiasts competed in areas of space robotics, satellites, eco space, and education and research involving space.
An Open Source Community Dedicated to Space Technology
Startup entrepreneur Liza Avramenko started Spacer when she returned to Ukraine after spending three years in Las Vegas, working on her VegasTechFund-backed startup, CheckiO. Space has always been an obsession of hers, she says. She and cofounder Valentin Bryukhanov shared an affinity for space news, exploration, and astronomy in general. “This is why you’ll see a lot of space related coding puzzles in CheckiO,” she says.
“After going back home to the ‘Space City’ in Ukraine I got submerged in this whole atmosphere of space tech. One thing I wanted to do is to become part of a space project or in any possible way contribute to space exploration. I couldn’t find anything and thus, after talking with Valentin we decided to launch Spacer for anybody in the world, regardless of their skills, to be able to contribute to space exploration.
“One important lesson that we learned at CheckiO was that a fun and supportive community can make big changes, and this is what we are aiming at building at Spacer. And on top of that, we know that by participating in projects (puzzles) we help people build up their resumes – another thing we learned in CheckiO.”
Image: Liza Avramenko of Spacer poses with members of the National Space Agency of Ukraine (image source: Spacer)
Spacer Hackathon Connects Teams to Innovators
Avramenko says Spacer is not so much a company as it is a movement. By partnering with major companies and agencies, Spacer generates community awareness and leverages interest from all around the world. Space technology startups and people looking to find work in space tech are able to make connections through the Spacer community.
The Spacer Hackathon was one such event that successfully united major agencies with the space community. Teams thrived in this environment, making courageous decisions and creating interesting space experiments. Some of these experiments will grow into successful projects.
Two teams emerged as first-place winners. One team created a cargo quadcopter to move research equipment over the surface of Mars, while the other proposed a solution to correct the orbit of small satellites with the help of a ground-based laser system.
The winning projects received support from Ukraine’s National Space Agency and from event sponsor Archer Software in developing prototypes and testing their hardware beyond the hackathon. Attendees were also excited to meet distinguished speakers and mentors including Ukrainian cosmonaut Leonid Kadeniuk and Fred Kalef of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.
“We didn’t expect Spacer Hackathon to have such an effect in media… We got requests to do this event in other cities in Ukraine (already with people providing location and funds) as well as in some US cities. Seems like space innovation is becoming not so scary,” adds Avramenko.
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