Solving the food problem from space
Reaktor Space Lab intends to send a flock of satellites into space.
“The Aalto University campus is an ideal environment for growing space business,” says Tuomas Tikka, CEO of Reaktor Space Lab.
Why did Reaktor Space Lab decide to come to the campus?
“Without Aalto University, there would be no Reaktor Space Lab. As a student, I participated in Finland’s first satellite projects at Aalto University. Our small team of students built the Aalto-1 and Aalto-2 satellites and started cooperation with the Reaktor software company in April 2016. That was when we founded our company.
We design, build and test small satellites for new space services. We want to turn space business into a new export industry for Finland.
I have been interested in technology and all things science fiction since I was a little boy. With regard to space, I’m interested in the thought of a final frontier – that there is still much that is unknown about the universe.
When I started studying space technology, my dream was to one day be able to produce a component for a satellite. My dreams have come true, many times over. Instead of producing individual components, we are building entire satellites. I couldn’t even imagine that I would one day be planning to send dozens of satellites into space.”
Tuomas Tikka watching System Engineer Janne Kuhno testing satellite systems in a clean room next to the office.
How do you benefit from operating on the same campus as the multidisciplinary Aalto University?
“Our facilities are located in A Grid, a new centre for growth companies. Other companies will later join us here, along with business accelerators. For example, the European Space Agency will be opening a business accelerator here. Our company has acquired licences for technologies developed during Aalto University’s satellite projects. This has enabled us to develop technologies for our Reaktor Hello World satellite.
Aalto offers excellent conditions for our operations. It would be expensive for a new company to immediately invest in test equipment and clean rooms. On the campus, we have been able to focus on what is essential: hiring enough people and delving into the development and building of satellites.
We cooperate closely with the Department of Electronics and Nanoengineering at Aalto University. We can use their equipment for a small fee, and they provide us with expert help when necessary. In addition, the campus has multidisciplinary workspaces with shared tools and equipment. Shared facilities also serve as meeting places for experts in various fields to share their knowledge.”
What kind of networks have you created on the campus?
“Even though today many matters can be taken care of electronically, our physical proximity to Aalto University makes our work much easier. In an urgent or critical situation, it’s easy to take the satellite to be tested in a laboratory here at Aalto University or in one of our partners’ laboratories near here. This type of flexibility and agility is important for small businesses.
Our partners in this area also include VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Their hyperspectral camera is on Aalto-1, as well as on Hello World, which we are using to demonstrate the functionality of the new infrared version of the camera.
It’s great that future talent in the field can very likely be found near here. We are pleased to cooperate with students: we immediately let Aalto University know if we have a good research topic in mind. This community has given us so much that we want to give back. Dozens of students have visited us to learn about our operations.
We are quite familiar with other companies in the Design Factory and Startup Sauna, and our networks will expand now that A Grid has opened. A hub with new operators will create many new opportunities. We have also participated in various events organised by Aalto University and attended events related to the launch of Aalto-1 and Aalto-2.
How would you like to change the world?
“Our plan is to send a flock of dozens of small satellites to monitor fields and forests using a hyperspectral camera. The camera is the world’s smallest device of its kind.
It can be used to identify plants and monitor their growth. It’s beneficial for agriculture and forestry, for example, as it produces global data on changes in field conditions and deviations in growth.
The population of the world keeps increasing, and there will not be enough food for everyone at the current rate. The hyperspectral camera help discover why plants are thriving in some fields and suffering in some. When we know the causes, we can respond to the problems and increase food production significantly. Satellites can also be used to measure pollution in the atmosphere, natural waterways and soil.”
The Reaktor Space Lab team have a nice office at A Grid. Jami Sarnikorpi and Tuomas Tikka are taking a break playing pool.
What does your future look like?
“We currently have eight top experts in space technology working for us, and we will hire more people as soon as we receive funding in the spring.
There are plenty of opportunities for nanosatellites like Hello World. They are small and lightweight, so launching them into orbit is less expensive. Hello World weighs 2.5 kilos and costs EUR 50,000 per kilo to launch. Reaktor helps us secure the world’s best software for the satellite.
Hello World is a nanosatellite approximately the size of a milk carton. It weighs 2.5 kilos.
Building small satellites is relatively inexpensive, meaning that we can launch an entire flock of satellites into the sky. One flock can consist of hundreds of nanosatellites, and images taken by them can cover the entire globe in just one day.
I hope that, in the future, we will be an even more credible operator in the international space market. We are one of the few companies that can build a satellite from scratch. The demand for nanosatellites has increased in recent years, and their commercialisation may well become an important sector for Finland. Growth in this field will also be reflected in other industries.
Text: Henna Rautiainen
Photos: Kimmo Räisänen
Video: Kimmo Räisänen