From delivering life-saving cargo across the world within one hour to tapping into boundless energy from orbit for the people of Earth, two pioneers keep elevating San Antonio’s profile as a global capital of space-based innovation.
Knight Aerospace and Astroport Space Technologies are poised to deliver game-changing innovations that will make our planet a more resilient and safer place.
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Two home-grown companies were independently selected as part of this year's Hyperspace Challenge — a national competition by the Air Force Research Laboratory as part of the U.S. Space Force's SpaceWERX program. The effort identifies private and research enterprises whose capabilities address the U.S. government's most pressing space-based priorities.
San Antonio-based Knight Aerospace and Astroport Space Technologies are part of this year's Hyperspace Challenge cohort of two dozen companies and universities. Entities from across the U.S. and Canada participated in the highly competitive program.
Both Knight and Astroport are headquartered on Port San Antonio's 1,900-acre technology campus — home to a growing array of organizations focused on developing the latest technologies in space exploration and the related fields of aerospace, cybersecurity, robotics, energy, biomedicine and global logistics.
"Over the centuries, humankind has conquered the terrestrial, sea and air domains, and without question our next transformational era is in space," said Port San Antonio President and CEO Jim Perschbach. "We are very proud that two of the leading innovators within this increasingly connected campus are among the standout examples from across the nation to deliver the next generation of space-based technologies that will make the world a better and more resilient place."
As part of this year's cohort, Hyperspace Challenge organizers are presenting both companies to defense and other federal entities to share their capabilities and identify how these can address two of the key challenges established by the competition.
Knight Aerospace is uniquely qualified to meet the challenge of Rocket Cargo Technology for Agile Global Logistics.
With the expectation that increasingly efficient reusable rockets will soon allow for the delivery of cargo worldwide by traveling suborbital or orbital flight paths above the Earth, there are important opportunities to use these new shipping lanes to respond to emergency situations and to provide humanitarian aid — particularly during natural disasters.
Instead of requiring hours — or even days — for cargo aircraft or naval vessels to reach an impacted area with equipment and supplies, rockets can arrive at those destinations with life-saving support within less than an hour. Their relatively small footprint and 90-degree vertical landing capabilities could also allow them to reach remote places that lack runways and locations otherwise inaccessible to aircraft.
Knight Aerospace is a global pioneer and leader in transforming the mission of cargo aircraft. This includes the development of state-of-the-art Aeromedical Modules or "flying emergency rooms" that are currently being used to safely transport injured and seriously ill patients by air. The modular units — known as Aeromedical Bio Containment Modules (ABCMs) — are rapidly rolled onto the cargo hold of C-130, C-17, A400M and many other cargo aircraft. The ABCM allows for a full array of medical support while in flight, including emergency surgeries. Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Air Force was the first to acquire this new technology. They have flown numerous missions saving dozens of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Aeromedical Modules can also function as standalone medical facilities on the ground. All that is required is a single power source, such as a generator, for them to deliver hospital-grade care.
As part of its engineering and development program, all Knight Aerospace products undergo rigorous testing to ensure airworthiness, including the ability to withstand significant G-forces. Given its capabilities, adaptable configurations and advanced design, Knight foresees the unmanned transportation of similar modules via reusable space-faring vessels.
Furthermore, to address this challenge, Knight Aerospace will team with Port San Antonio-based Exploration Architecture Corp., or XArc. This collaboration leverages XArc's current Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and SpaceX to investigate how to move cargo anywhere in the world in an hour or less via global point-to-point rocket transportation. Knight and XArc will thus collaborate in the development options for medical cargo delivery.
"We are thrilled to have been selected as part of this year's Hyperspace cohort," said Knight Aerospace President and CEO Bianca Rhodes. "Our technology is proven and already saving lives as it is integrated into aerial transport. We are now greatly looking forward to growing our partnerships here at Port San Antonio and nationally, including collaborating with future users among federal agencies, to use space transport to deliver these capabilities in record time. We have learned that minutes count when responding to natural disasters and other challenges."
Headquartered within less than a mile from Knight Aerospace, Astroport Space Technologies has been called upon by the Hyperspace Challenge to lend its expertise to advance the federal government's On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing priority.
Astroport was selected for the challenge based on its technology to melt lunar minerals as a principal source of raw materials. This entails using basaltic rocks and other minerals on the Moon as the primary resource to build everything from lunar infrastructure to components for large orbiting structures.
The company is currently at work with numerous partners, including the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), in establishing processes whereby robots, three-dimensional printers and other unmanned technologies can be initially deployed on the lunar surface. Once there, they will extract lunar materials and use an array of processes to build habitats for humans, as well as launch pads and other infrastructure required for establishing long-term lunar colonies.
As part of this process, Astroport is leading a NASA-funded effort to determine how to use minerals readily available on the surface of the Moon so they can be heated to a molted state to serve multiple uses, including being shaped as inter-fitting bricks that robots can use to build landing pads before human arrival.
The same materials can also be launched from the Moon into Earth's orbit where they will supply space-based factories equipped with furnaces and three-dimensional printers that shape these feedstock minerals into beams, connectors, joists and other components of large frameworks for massive infrastructure, such as radio telescopes or space-based power generation stations.
Thanks to new advancements by NASA and other researchers in recent years, the long-anticipated ability to capture limitless solar energy from orbit and transmit it on an industrial scale wirelessly to Earth is increasingly within reach.
Space-based power generation envisions deploying massive arrays of solar panels in orbit to harness and then transmit the Sun's energy in the form of microwaves back to receiving stations on Earth. The stations would in turn supply grids that power communities across the planet. Among its many advantages, this form of energy would significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels and would allow for the delivery of electrical power anywhere on Earth without the need for costly infrastructure.
"Sourcing the Moon for materials, combined with establishing manufacturing operations in low Earth orbit, represents a new frontier in space construction applications," said Astroport Space Technologies CEO Sam Ximenes.
"Lunar colonies and space-based electrical power generation are no longer far-away notions of some distant future," he added. "Across the planet, nations are competing to be the first to harness this incredible potential, and we foresee that very soon those of us on this quest will be pivoting from the laboratory into implementation."
In addition to the valuable engagement opportunities already underway between the Hyperspace Challenge's cohort and federal entities, on December 2, Knight, Astroport and the other 22 selected firms and universities will be part of the Hyperspace Summit — a pitch competition where the organizations could receive up to $100,000 in cash prizes to expedite their activities.
"By being among the finalists in this year's Hyperspace Challenge, it is giving our San Antonio-based technologies added visibility to the decision-makers at the federal level who can accelerate that transition," Ximenes further noted. "It's a very exciting time to be part of humankind's future in space — a future that will require the participation of many people, and we're honored to be among them."