Dropping SpaceX, Israel’s SpacePharma launches bio-testing nanosatellite into orbit with help from India’s ISRO
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SpacePharma's DIDO nanosatellite (SpacePharma)

After a year of SpaceX delays, the pioneering cube satellite hitched a ride with India’s ISRO

Israeli-Swiss startup SpacePharma, which has built a nanosatellite dubbed DIDO that conducts biological experiments in microgravity, has finally launched its pioneer machine with the help of India’s national space agency, ISRO.

It was originally scheduled for the end of 2015, but was pushed back thanks to delays in the SpaceX schedule. Following the September explosion of a Falcon 9 in Florida, the company ultimately had to settle with a backup plan and hitched a ride with last week’s successful PSLV-C37 launch.

“This nanosatellite is equipped with mGnify, our proprietary miniaturized, end-to-end laboratory that allows researchers to remotely control vital scientific experiments anywhere from Earth,” wrote SpacePharma Founder Yossi Yamin in a blog post, referring to the company’s proprietary testing platform.

The mGnify lab’s big selling point is the ability to conduct biochemical experiments in a microgravitational environment (also known as “zero-g,” though the space industry avoids this term professionally because the latter term is technically incorrect as there is always some gravity present).

ISRO’s PSLV-C37 launch on Feb 15, 2017 (SpacePharma)

Previously, such experiments could only be conducted on the International Space Station and be pre-approved following a long vetting process. Offering the service in a controlled and smaller environment independent of the ISS brings down costs and increases options for research labs.

Yamin outlined the company’s immediate plans.

“We plan to establish communication with DIDO in a few days, which then sets the stage for full activation of mGnify shortly thereafter. Once fully activated, our science customers will be able to fully control their on-board experiments and receive valuable scientific data directly on the device of their choice.”

Geektime originally profiled SpacePharma over a year ago when they exhibited their satellite at the 2015 International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem. At the time, the extended delay that the company experienced wasn’t foreseeable but would not have been unexpected. Delays are common in the space industry.

While more options for getting cargo into orbit exist today, the industry has traditionally had to be patient as fluke errors with rockets or changing weather patterns can close launch windows even seconds before launch. SpaceX’s launch Sunday was actually delayed by two days following an anomaly discovered in their Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage a mere 13 seconds before ignition.

“You see the money going down and see these launches as revenue creators or milestones for additional investment, and of course once something like this is delayed it can put organizations into pressure,” SpacePharma’s CPO Ido Priel told Geektime following last September’s accident.

“Of course you have your investors coming and asking, ‘Why did this happen?’ but they know you’re building your plan, meeting your deadline and have your backup plan. It’s force du jour, it’s out of our hands.”

The launch last week also sent up an 88-strong nanosatellite constellation from Silicon Valley startup Planet, which recently acquired former competitor Terra Bella from Google. Other satellites on the manifest included BGUSAT from Israel’s Ben Gurion University and the UAE’s American University of Sharjah.

 

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