When Perseverance arrives on Mars early next year, it will be the first landfall for a rover carrying 3D-printed metal parts and a small victory for proponents of the technique in the high-cost, high-risk world of the U.S. aerospace program.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, nestled in the foothills of La Cañada Flintridge, has seen a slow cultural shift over the last decade toward the adoption of 3D printing techniques, more formally known as "additive manufacturing," in spacecraft design. The technology uses lasers to melt metal powder that is layered to precise computer modeling, until that metal takes the shape of whatever engineers need.
For years, 3D printing has been relegated to the realm of nerdy hobbyists, but its adoption by startups and big business has helped push NASA leaders toward accepting more innovation despite the risks. These days, 3D printing has been used on airplane engines, houses, hearing aids, chocolates, Tesla car components and even a pair of Adidas shoes.
"I have seen a 3D printed burrito, and it didn't look as delicious as Chipotle," said Scott Roberts, a JPL materials technologist, with a laugh.
Relativity Space co-founder and CTO Jordan Noone announced on Twitter Wednesday that he began a transition to the role of executive advisor earlier this week "in preparation for starting my next venture."
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Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator's latest class announced partnerships with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Maxar Technologies and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) North America, among others, at Wednesday's long-awaited showcase. It was the culmination of months of focused and sometimes grueling remote work.
The program aims to help companies achieve several years of commercial growth within three months, with mentorship from the accelerator's partners, including the U.S. Air Force, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industries North American (IAI), SAIC and Maxar Technology.
Prewitt Ridge Partners with JPL<p>Los Angeles-based Prewitt Ridge co-founder and CEO Steve Massey joined forces with his co-founder, Zeke Brechtel, both formerly with SpaceX to build an integrated software platform that aims to remove data duplication, lower the likelihood of error and let companies work faster.<br></p><p>Prewitt Ridge announced that JPL will be its first major external user in the aerospace and robotics space, which is a target market for the company. Massey said the company has been able to gain a deeper understanding of JPL's needs, approaches and challenges through the accelerator program. The company will help with a small research and development project, building the robotic arm for the lunar lander payload — <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2009/07/27/211353/a-robotic-arm-for-lunar-missions/" target="_blank">which helps deploy equipment</a> onto the moon's surface.</p>
Urban Sky's Stratospheric Balloon Gets PreSeed Investment<p>In less than a year, Urban Sky co-founder and CEO Andrew Antonio said the company has "designed, built and flown the first-ever reusable high altitude balloon and collected sample aerial imagery from the stratosphere."<br></p><p>Its microballoon is reusable and reduces the cost of high-resolution remote sensing and weather-related data capture from its stratospheric vantage point.</p><p>Antonio announced that Urban Sky oversubscribed its pre-seed round with investments from New Stack, L.A.-based VC firm TenOneTen, Catapult and Techstars. The company also won a $250,000 cash grant from the state of Colorado as a top startup in the state and a small business innovation research contract from JPL to further develop its tech for wildlife monitoring applications. Antonio also said that Maxar has stated its interest in partnering with Urban Sky as an imaging subcontractor. Lastly, Atonio announced the company's first commercial customer and partner, Arturo, to conduct its one-year imaging pilot program over Colorado.</p>
vRotors Gets a Slew of Partnerships<p>L.A.-based vRotors, which provides a platform that aims to make it easier to control a remote robotic device from a PC, Mac, mobile phone or VR headset, from anywhere in the world.</p><p>Co-founder and CEO Neil Malhotra announced vRotors' first partnerships with Dish Network to help with remote tower inspections; with Maxar Technologies to do real-time, high-resolution 3-D map applications; and Honeywell to do remote supervision of its autonomous air taxi fleets. vRotors is also working with IAI to automate the landing process for their next moon mission.</p>
Lux Semiconductors Gets Federal Backing<p>Co-founder and CEO Shane McMahon announced that Lux, which has developed a flexible silicon wafer to help miniaturize electronics, has raised more than $200 million from major federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.</p><p>The company has been collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on technical matters and is also working on several cooperative research agreements with strategic defense agencies focused on advanced microelectronics. McMahon said the company has received support from five of the top aerospace and defense firms and is partnering with two of them on "joint proposals to embed our electronics into their systems."</p>
Bifrost Will Generate Martian Landscape<p>Charles Wong, the CEO and co-founder of Bifrost, which helps AI developers generate labelled datasets faster, announced Wednesday that it will be working with JPL to generate synthetic Martian terrain with the aim of helping to achieve the dream of safely landing a helicopter on Mars. Wong said the company is also in talks with Rolls Royce to enable new capabilities in aerospace.</p>
Holos Will Bring Its Virtual Reality Training to the Air Force, IAI<p>The Madison, Wisconsin-based company Holos aims to "give people agency over the virtual experience" so that they can create immersive education and training environments without having to outsource to a firm.</p><p>The company received a $750,000 small business innovation grant from the U.S. Air Force to work on developing a virtual maintenance and repair training system for the F-35 out of Southern California's Edwards Air Force base. It's also contracted to develop a prototype to integrate the command and control of space, air and cyber assets for the U.S. Air Force. Holos also announced that it will be working with IAI to explore developing a next generation multi-domain command and control system powered through AR and VR that can be used for training.</p>
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