Dreaming of Suitcases in Space

Lake Elsinore, Calif. – The mission to divert space for express delivery took off from a simple propeller plane over a remote airstrip in the shadow of the Santa Ana Mountains.

Shortly after sunrise last Saturday, an Inversion Space engineer, barely a year old, threw a capsule that looked like a flying saucer out of the open door of an aircraft flying at 3,000 feet. The capsule, 20 inches in diameter, bounced in the air for a few seconds before the parachute was deployed and pulled the container straight for slow descent.

“It was slow to open,” said Justin Fiaschetti, the 23-year-old chief executive of Inverzone, who watched the parachute curiously through the long-lens camera viewfinder.

The exercise seemed like the work of amateur rocketry enthusiasts. But, in reality, it was a test run for something more bizarre. Inversion is building Earth-orbiting capsules to deliver goods from outer space to anywhere in the world. To make it a reality, the inversion capsule will come about 25 times faster than the speed of sound from Earth’s atmosphere, making parachutes essential for soft landings and unmanaged cargo.

Inversion bets that as space travel becomes cheaper, government agencies and companies will want to not only send objects into orbit but also bring objects back to Earth.

The inversion aims to develop a four-foot-diameter capsule carrying a payload equivalent to the size of a few carry-on suitcases by 2025. Once in orbit, the capsule, the company hopes, will be able to navigate or stay on a private commercial space station. In orbit with solar panels until called back to Earth. When it was time to return, the capsule could exit the orbit and re-enter the atmosphere.

The capsule will deploy a parachute to slow down its descent and descend within a radius of ten miles from its target location. The company plans a small display capsule with a 20-inch diameter to be ready by 2023.

If the inversion succeeds, it is possible to imagine hundreds or thousands of containers floating around the space for five years – like some (actually) remote storage lockers.

The company’s founders envision that the capsules could store prostheses delivered to the operating room in a matter of hours or serve as a mobile field hospital floating in orbit that would be sent to distant parts of the planet. And one day, a shortcut through space could allow for incredibly fast delivery – such as delivering a New York pizza to San Francisco in 45 minutes.

The founders of Inverzion believe that the cost of launching a space-sharing spacecraft on a SpaceX rocket could be more realistic than current prices, starting at 1 million (and increasing by weight). Inversion declined to estimate how much its capsules would cost.

The research was published by Harvard Business School Professor Matthew C. “Everyone in the sector who is trying to overcome this big hurdle is that at the current cost, there is not so much demand to do more in space,” Weinzier said. About the economic potential of space.

For decades, people have imagined living and working in space as an extension of life on Earth. That vision sounded like a Hollywood fantasy until the influx of private rocket companies drastically reduced the cost of space travel, making extraterrestrial commercial activity more possible.

The cost of launching a kilogram, about 2.2 pounds, payload into outer space has dropped by about 90 percent in the last 30 years. With the SpaceX Starship expected to bring down costs as well, its next generation rocket is still in development. Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, said he expects the launch cost for a massive rocket to be less than $ 10 million in three years – compared to the Falcon 9, the company’s કિંમ 62 million announced price for launching a widely used rocket.

Inexpensive, for the space to be more accessible than it is today Launching a rocket is just one part of the equation.

Another important factor is the features in space. Last year, NASA finally selected three companies to raise funds for commercial space stations as part of a plan to replace the International Space Station. A fourth company, Axiom Space, was awarded a 140 million contract in 2020 to build a habitable module connected to the ISS.

Mr. Fiaschetti, who did an intern for SpaceX before leaving college last year to pursue his start-up dreams, thinks physical goods – not just satellite data – can be sent back into space.

Today, the main cargo satellites for rockets are those that remain in space. Vehicles carrying experiments from humans or space are larger, cost more than $ 100 million, and typically work closely with specific rockets. Inversion said it has designed its small capsules to fit into any commercial rocket so they can ride frequently and cheaply in space.

What the inversion is trying to do is not easy. Designing a vehicle for re-entry is a different engineering challenge than sending objects into space. When the capsule enters the atmosphere from space, it travels at such a high speed that there is a risk of burns – a major threat to human travelers and precious inhumane cargo.

Sita Raghav, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Central Florida, said it would be more difficult to control the heat, vibration and deceleration of the capsule when the size of the vehicle shrinks.

“Everything becomes difficult when you have a small thing to control,” Ms. Said Raghav.

The plan of inversion for capsules in orbit raises questions about whether it will contribute to the congestion in space, which is already a problem in the megakonstellation of satellites. And the abundance of satellites interfering with the observations of planets, stars and other celestial bodies has been a common complaint among astronomers.

But Inversion said it is using the material to make its capsules significantly less reflective to reduce visual pollution. In addition, the company said that its capsule will come with a system to avoid debris and collisions in orbit.

Mr. Briggs, 23, and Mr. They met Fiaschetti as they sat next to each other at the matriculation ceremony for new students at Boston University. He became active in the school’s Rocket Propulsion Group working on rocket design. They moved to Los Angeles during the epidemic. One night, they were discussing the future of the space industry – “We are scholars. This is what we do, “said Mr. Fiaschetti – and they started building less expensive re-entry vehicles to carry cargo out of space.

They moved to a guesthouse in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles, paying $ 1,250 a month, including the use of a garage that had become the company’s workshop. Using Mr. Fiashetti’s wooden tools, they designed and built the rocket engine working from aluminum in an attempt to prove to potential investors that they have the necessary technical chops.

In June, Inversion joined Space Y Combinator, known for its initial investment in Silicon Valley start-up incubator RBNB and Stripe. Five months later, it said it had raised $ 10 million based on letters worth $ 225 million from potential customers interested in reserving space on Inversion capsules. Mr. Fiaschetti refused to identify customers.

Venture capital has begun to see the potential of space. Globally, venture capital firms invested $ 7.7 billion in space-related technology last year, up nearly 50 percent from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Pitchbook.

The inversion was moved to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Office Park in Torrance. It is a Tinker’s dream workshop, with parts for packing a dense parachute like oak, welding equipment and machining equipment for making a 20-ton hydraulic shop press.

At the far end of the warehouse – next to the floor-to-ceiling American flag and basketball hoop – is a black, 10-foot shipping container to test rocket engines and parachute deployment mechanisms. The structure has steel-reinforced concrete walls, sealing sprinklers and a system to replace oxygen with nitrogen in case of fire.

In a recent interview, Inversion was preparing to test a new parachute design. Parachutes are difficult. They have to rotate completely to make sure the capsule will slow down and not overflow. Many factors, including the choice of fabric and seam design, can affect the effectiveness of a parachute.

While most rocket companies outsource parachute design and manufacturing, Inversion sees their own construction as an advantage.

In a previous test, the inversion noted that the capsule oscillates a lot. On that day, Mr. Fiashetti, Mr. Briggs and two engineers arrived at an airstrip just before sunrise last Saturday, mostly used by skydivers to test new designs.

Connor Kells, an engineer overseeing the inversion parachute design, boarded the plane with a test capsule, which was attached to a GoPro camera and inertial measurement unit to measure its movement. After he threw the capsule off the plane, he waited a few seconds and then jumped. An experienced sky diver Mr. Kells circled the capsule, shooting video of his movements from another camera on his helmet.

When he landed, he shared the same observation as everyone else: the parachute was slow to deploy. The team quickly scanned the video and made a list of possible factors. What Mr. Kelse throws the capsule too rough? Was there much unrest when the drop occurred? Was it because they last used a different shaped capsule?

In the second test, the parachute opened as expected. However, the GoPro camera tapped on the capsule fell into descent – encouraging a fierce search. (Eventually they found it.) After another test, the team thought they had solved the problem: the adhesive fabric tape used to patch the hole caused the parachute to stick.

Later, Mr. Fiaschetti said he was not disappointed with the slow parachute opening as it was part of the process.

“Early in the development, you expect things not to go as well as you would like,” he said. “I think that’s why they call hardware ‘hard tech’.”

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