A Fireside Chat with Diego Nodar from Alén Space

interview with Alén Space

This week, we had the exciting opportunity to chat with Diego Nodar, COO of Alén Space, and discuss extensively the company’s journey, their greatest challenges around radiation shielding and share some of their products.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and about Alén Space? Why did you choose to get into the small satellite services market?

Alén Space is the result of more than 12 years of hard work of our team developing cutting-edge technology and pioneering the development of nanosatellites. We were born as a spin-off of the  University of Vigo’s Strategic Aerospace Group. We were responsible for the 2012 launch of Xatcobeo,  the first Spanish CubeSat in history. From then on, we have collaborated with some of the most demanding space agencies and companies, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the United  Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB). 

All our work was in place when the commercial use of nanosatellites opened the business opportunity that brought us to create Alén Space with a clear focus: help our clients to put their business ideas into orbit while reducing access barriers to Space.  

To date, all our missions have been 100% successful, from design to operation in orbit. This is not just by chance. We are committed to excellence, adapting the quality standards form the European Space  Agency (ESA) to the field of nanosatellites and designing hardware and software technology to meet the most demanding requirements. 

NASA picture of Serpens launch from the ISS on 17th September 2015
NASA picture of Serpens launch from the ISS on 17th September 2015

What orbits are your missions most focused on? 

Small satellite missions are usually launched into LEO orbits at altitudes of between 400 and 650 km.  That is also the case of our missions to date. These altitudes offer a better protection from solar and cosmic radiation for our satellites and allow to provide better services for some applications, such as telecommunications and Earth observation.

In your opinion, what do you think are the greatest pain points or typical mistakes made in relation to radiation shielding?

One of the greatest is that we mainly work with COTS components. Unlike the space-grade components for which we can get precise information about their behaviour in terms of radiation,  manufacturers of COTS do not provide such information, as they do not have it. In this way, it is not easy to calculate the shielding we need and we must rely on estimations and previous experience. 

Another pain point is that we have to reserve an important amount of mass and volume for the shielding. In the case of nanosatellites that is a great price to pay.

Which project are you most proud of? Why is it important?

Our team is proud of our participation in the Xatcobeo mission. It was launched back in 2012 and successfully operated for two and a half years. That was the first step of all the following missions. A  great success for all of us, for the University of Vigo and even for Spain, because it became the first  Spanish nanosatellite in Space.

Due to the Xatcobeo mission, we had the opportunity to collaborate with institutions, companies and agencies around the world as well as being considered pioneers in the Spanish New Space industry. 

Xatcobeo
Could you shed some light on your most significant challenges regarding the development of satellites? How did you manage to overcome them? 

There are always many challenges in a space mission. We attach great importance to our quality standards, which come from the adaptation of the processes of the European Space Agency (ESA) to the field of small satellites.  

Besides, we work independently with the market’s leading providers, and we are not bound by exclusivity agreements with any hardware or software manufacturers. So, to speak, we have the autonomy to choose the best suitable components for every project based on strict criteria of quality,  functionality, integration and price. 

We also face missions which require a lot of knowledge of the Space industry, but luckily, we have more than 12 years of experience in international projects, which is something that not many companies can say. 

Our experience allows us to offer ready-to-fly solutions (ADS-B, AIS, IoT and Signal Intelligence, for instance), already 100% operational and ready for launching in a satellite, but we have also demonstrated flexibility to adapt to the needs of any client with tailor-made solutions.

Launch of the Lume-1 Nanosatellite on a Russian Soyuz rocket
Launch of the Lume-1 Nanosatellite on a Russian Soyuz rocket

What is Alén Space planning for the future? Any exciting developments you would like to share? 

Our idea has always been to consolidate our position as a reference manufacturer in the small satellite global market. For this reason, we are looking to strengthen our commercial area and recruit talent for our team. 

About our new developments, we have confidential commitments on some of the projects we are carrying out, but we can talk about some public issues.  

Firstly, we have developed the 5G IoT communications payload for the first of the 100 nanosatellites in the Sateliot constellation to democratise the Internet of Things with 5G coverage. The launch of this first satellite is scheduled for this month from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  

We also take part in a project with the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) to monitor water quality in Spanish reservoirs and swamps, as well as the study of global warming caused by the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

Recently, we have also announced that we are developing an innovative solution to digitalise communications in the marine industry using the VDES standard. This project with Egatel and Gradiant can be a revolution in maritime communications.  

Finally, we can mention our collaborative project with the European Space Agency (ESA), the  University of Oviedo and the University of Vigo to explore caves on the Moon. This research has investigated how to deploy a swarm of small robots inside a cave and its focus has been on overcoming the lack of solar power inside the caves, as well as how to transmit data from the robots to a rover on the Moon’s surface.

One thing is for sure, we have exciting months ahead of us. Some new announcements are coming soon, but these are the projects we can mention right now.

How can our readers support you?

Sharing with us their experiences especially with radiation in orbit. We are more than welcome to receive any comment, doubt or request at info@alen.space. We are always attentive to all those who are interested in the Space sector.

What advice would you give to new enthusiastic space entrepreneurs that want to join the space industry? 

We would tell them that this is an amazing and inspiring industry, but it can be hard sometimes because they will face global competition. They must stop thinking locally and take on the competition with powerful companies. We advise them to know how to move, have high-quality products and being flexible with the demands that the customer may require. 

Moreover, entrepreneurs need to surround themselves with experienced actors in the Space sector,  whether they are suppliers or a higher education institution such as universities. They must also deal with situations where they are going to require funding for innovative projects. 

If they combine all these tips, we believe that they can climb up in this industry and make a name in something as complex as the New Space sector.

If you want to learn more about Alén Space, check out their website.

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