On 2 February 2023, Christopher Luwanga, the CEO of Galamad Aerospace, announced the start-up company closed a pre-seed round of USD 1.05 million to design and build the satellite platform called PROSat. The PROSAT will leverage new technologies and contribute immensely to the growth and development of the space sector.
According to Christopher, PROSat is a step toward a new satellite constellation designed and built with improved capabilities and lower manufacturing costs than traditional small satellites.
Space in Africa chatted with Christopher Luwanga, CEO of Galamad Aerospace, to learn more about the satellite’s development progress and potential impacts.
What are the core objectives of Galamad Aerospace?
The purpose of Galamad Aerospace is to leverage the technological advancements in the last couple of years to produce capable and cost-efficient satellites. We have started with a foot in Singapore for engineering and design and another foot in Malawi, where we will assemble and test space systems in larger quantities.
You recently announced that you got a pre-seed raise of USD 1.05 million to design PROSat. Can you discuss more on that?
The pre-seed of USD 1.05 million is for our development. So we expect a prototype, a minimum viable product, next year. In addition, part of the pre-seed will be used to set up the necessary infrastructure and facilities and assemble a team. We are designing a new kind of spacecraft and not just launching a CubeSat — ours is quite different in form, architecture and capability for its given size. We are going back in time to question why certain materials were used to build spacecraft in favour of other materials, why solar cells are hexagonal, and so on. These fundamental questions will enable us to make a compact and novel satellite.
What was the inspiration behind PROSat?
Over time, we will share more details about what the PROSat looks like and its exact mission; however, we are concentrating on some problems the space industry faces. The first is the problem of reusability or lack thereof. Where there is reusability currently, it usually comes as an afterthought. Most satellites are designed as single-use objects; however, we want to create a system that ensures satellites are reusable. We launch it, perform a mission, bring it back down, refurbish and relaunch it to complete a new mission. And we do this multiple times.
In addition, we are conscious of the multiple satellites launched into space and the problem of space debris. The new set of satellites will be required to pinpoint their orbital position. So the future of satellites is not just sticking to an assigned orbit but can manoeuvre at will to avoid other spacecraft or debris. We aim to embed manoeuvrability into the platform.
ChatGPT is all the rave right now, and in your announcement, you mentioned that PROSat would leverage ChatGPT. Can you elaborate on this?
ChatGPT is a tool that can significantly aid in summarising information or knowledge. One area it will assist us with is carrying out research, reading papers, patents, etc. I currently don’t think ChatGPT will be directly on board the spacecraft. However, time will tell how involved ChatGTP and other AI tools will be incorporated into our systems.
However, more importantly, our interest and preference for new technologies are why I mentioned ChatGP’s use as an image of a poster child for the emerging tech—which certainly includes machine learning and new ways of manufacturing and design. My experience with machine learning models during my PhD studies will be integrated into the platform. For example, as models for analysing signals, we receive from the numerous sensors on board.
Where will the industrial base for PROSat be? Will it be in Singapore or Malawi?
The factory will be outside of Singapore. Location is one of the variables we are trying to control carefully. In everything, we aim to simplify our processes and turn them into a handbook for hardware systems development for satellites which is reusable anywhere in the world. Our Singapore design and engineering team will map out the assembly process, factory configuration, test procedures, etc. Once we have all these mapped out, we will set up the machines. Right now, we are looking to install that assembly base in Malawi. However, this is contingent on several other factors. First, the factory will be in a lower-cost region to ensure we can churn out this hardware cost-effectively and rapidly leverage automation and a large human team.
So we’re setting up what can be thought of as a spacecraft design and engineering studio in Singapore and then a factory somewhere else.
Is the space engineering landscape in Malawi equipped to take on this challenge?
The technical aspect of assembling, testing and other essential manufacturing processes are in place already. Currently, Malawi is a great location to assemble spacecraft rather than carry out all the commercial and technical activities. But, of course, we can’t do everything in a place like Malawi because the needed electronics, logistics, and so on ecosystems are not in place yet. But assembly, integration and testing, we can do that. So the plan is to design in Singapore, assemble in Malawi, and sell globally, which is essential for our business and vision—we are targeting more than just the Malawian or African audience.
African manufacturing NewSpace companies majorly source funding from the government, creating a hole when such financing dries up. How are you looking to avoid this pitfall early on in your business?
We are looking to be a global player, and in Singapore, I have been partnering with investors and not relying on government grants. I want a company that can stand on its own and be a story that makes sense from a commercial point of view. This method will raise capital for the company and invite more investors. Our current model does not limit itself to one specific downstream space application. We want to solve issues that affect spacecraft design and manufacturing organisations globally.
What are the implications of platforms like PROSat to the satellite industry?
I foresee satellites becoming more autonomous, especially as we move into a future where potentially millions—or even billions—of satellites will be launched. So it is becoming essential to be capable of alerting other spacecraft that you are in a particular orbit. Designing a system that allows for optimum manoeuvrability when necessary is critical. Achieving this will require advanced algorithms and systems to control space traffic and prevent spacecraft traffic jams and interferences.
Furthermore, I believe spacecraft reusability will be explored by more people because, as an industry, it is not economical to develop, build, test, launch and then use the item once and abandon it in some graveyard somewhere. The current model is akin to buying an expensive car, driving it for a few hundred kilometres and then throwing it away merely because it has run out of fuel. Reusability will be core in this new age of so many spacecraft.
How do you foresee the satellite market growth in Africa? What can be done to boost African space programmes?
The most important thing is for Africa to begin actual projects. Several capacity-building programmes have been implemented in the last couple of years. However, to get actual results, we need to start doing more research into advanced space manufacturing techniques and developing solutions to current and future needs.
We can have plans for projects where countries unite to build a constellation of a couple of thousand satellites. In Africa, we have the skill sets to create a constellation of whatever size.
Others think that to execute such projects, further learning must occur. However, I disagree, considering the satellites launched in the 1950s, 60s and 70s by the Americans and Russians functioned somewhat adequately. They built those satellites more than 50 years ago when they had much lower capacities than Africans now have regarding intellectuals, computing, material engineering, and electronics. So I am beyond confident that, as a continent, we can build whatever satellite we want right now.
Thus, we must focus on learning through authentic projects that have commercial and economic benefits. For instance, conferences like the NewSpace Africa Conference 2023, organised by Space in Africa and the African Union, would present a critical avenue to structure projects comprising NewSpace companies, institutions and space agencies. The shift in focus should be to actual projects rather than discussing collaborations or potentialities of space programmes.
For now, the African space industry has the tools to do whatever we desire, and I hope we all work together to achieve them.
Deborah loves reading and enjoys philosophical discussions.