Some Austin startups are doing work that's out of this world.
Amid all the headlines of the Billionaire Space Race— the competition among Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to launch rockets and take tourist space flights— you may have missed the launch of these Austin projects.
From lunar missions to satellites and training the next generation of space explorers, these Austin startups are on the cutting edge of space tech:
A robotics, software, and building materials developer known as ICON has had their materials appear in 3D-printed East Austin homes and in a partnership with the Texas Military Department for 3D-printed barracks. But they're also making progress on space projects.
Last month, the company announced it was awarded a government research contract that includes funding from NASA to develop a space-based construction system that may support future Moon exploration.
The company now has a division focused on space. CEO Jason Ballard said the company was honored to start the work, which will be known as Project Olympus and the Olympus Construction System.
"Building humanity's first home on another world will be the most ambitious construction project in human history and will push science, engineering, technology, and architecture to literal new heights," Ballard said. "NASA's investment in space-age technologies like this can not only help to advance humanity's future in space, but also to solve very real, vexing problems we face on Earth."
We are one step closer to landing on the Moon! After successfully completing @NASA's Critical Design Review (CDR), our Blue Ghost lunar lander is on schedule for a September 2023 landing in Mare Crisium. Congrats BG team! https://firefly.com/firefly-aerospace-is-one-step-closer-to-landing-on-the-moon/\u00a0\u2026 #Fireflypic.twitter.com/d4Rb3BsyKe— Firefly Aerospace (@Firefly Aerospace) 1635169797
Even though their September test launch wound up in flames, startup rocket company Firefly is on schedule for a lunar mission after completing NASA's critical design review in October. CEO Tom Markusic remarked on the milestone, calling it "another step in an aggressive schedule."
"Meeting it continues to showcase our spacecraft team's ability to consistently deliver incredible work," Markusic said. "This mission is a forerunner of what we see as a growing cadence of recurring data and payload service missions in cis-lunar space that will kickstart a lunar economy."
The spacecraft, which has been dubbed the Blue Ghost lunar lander, has plans to touch down in the Mare Crisium lunar basin in September 2023 carrying ten NASA payloads and several commercial payloads.
But they won't stop there: the 2023 launch will be the first of what they expect to be yearly lunar surface missions for Firefly.
Building an array of communication systems satellites, UAVs, launch vehicles, and other space platforms, CesiumAstro has raised more than $14 million in venture capital and is looking to make a couple dozen more Austin hires. CEO Shey Sabripour founded the company in 2017 after a stint at Firefly, where he worked as chief technology officer.
In September, CesiumAstro announced a successful launch and deployment of its first 2 satellites, a move Sabripour described as getting them "one step closer to transforming in-orbit and aircraft connectivity."
"We will see major advancements over the course of the next decade which will revolutionize a highly-anticipated era of connected mobility," Sabripour said. "Our suite of core technologies is fully elevated through consistent and frequent testing as we initiate our first fleet deployments."
Now, CesiumAstro, which boasts that its satellites provide an on-orbit testbed for the next generation of wireless communications and sensing technologies, has entered its next phase of testing. The satellites are running experiments over the next few months through which the company offered demonstration partnerships with interested commercial and government organizations.
Based in both Austin and El Segundo, California, Slingshot Aerospace started in 2017 and quickly secured key contracts with NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and others.
One contract was with the U.S. Space Force for a tool to train the next generation of space operators and engineers through simulations. But in September, the company announced it will be available for commercial use through a partnership with STEM3 Academy in an effort to make the space industry more accessible.
"The growing space industry needs top talent but many are not trained in fundamental spaceflight astrodynamics, which creates a barrier to entry. We've created a tool that enables companies to incorporate astrodynamics into their training curriculum, blasting the doors wide open on recruiting," CEO Melanie Stricklan said. "At the same time, young students who are interested in space can more easily understand complex methodologies through visual and collaborative learning, empowering them to develop concepts through investigative and explorative means—making space for everyone."
Working in realms like clean energy and mining, Hypersciences does not define itself as an orbital space company and said it's looking to revolutionize multiple industries. Still, the company specializes in the application of hypersonic technology, which powers engines with velocities five times the speed of sound, and has made aerospace core to their research. They also supply equipment as a first-stage rocket replacement.
Mark Russell, a former lead engineer and manager for Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, founded the Washington-based company in 2014, bringing on a team that includes Leon Vanstone, founder of the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab. The startup also has a key office in Austin.
"After years of looking at rocket after rocket, and trying to predict how they would fail, I realized that we needed a new way to fly," Russell said during an interview at South by Southwest in 2019.
He said he was drilling one night at 2 in the morning, in a hole that was over 3 kilometers when he had an "aha!" moment. "I'd seen a technology called ram accelerator from the University of Washington where it was just a tube filled with natural gas and air and you could take a projectile and fly through it and exit at multiple times the speed of sound putting vehicles to the edge of the atmosphere so you only need a teeny little rocket to get you into space," Russel said. "That put me down a path of both merging that aerospace with the underground solutions."
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Over a year after they took the stage for the first time in Los Angeles, Austin FC returned to Banc of America Stadium to snatch the No. 1 spot from LAFC in a 2-1 statement win late Wednesday night.
Austin FC, which has flirted with the top spot in the MLS West this season, has now solidly reached the summit just a year after its second-to-last first season finish. The new top dogs are now 7-2-3 overall.
Here's a look at three highlights from the match:
Flashback in LA
For many Austin FC fans and naysayers alike, the match was more than a fight for the MLS West throne: it also served as a symbol of how far the team has come.
The two clubs first met on the Banc of America pitch as Austin FC saw its first game and first loss all at once in a 2-0 battle last April. It was an exciting but shaky start to the club's first season, and the loss seemed to set the tone for the rest of its inaugural year as the club dipped to second to last in the conference.
If Austin's first season was hallmarked by its first match, then its second-year success was foretold by its back-to-back five-goal victories to kick off the season.
Since then, the club has battled its own first-year shadow, claims of "bonus games" and a few unexpected obstacles—both on and off the pitch—but it has almost always come out on top.
That fight to the top was fully realized Wednesday, even as the club played its toughest opponent yet. Even with a man down in the middle due to Daniel Pereira's red card last game, the club kept its cool through even the trickiest moments of the match. Jhojan Valencia, who patched the Pereira hole in midfield, got his first MLS start and first MLS assist as Ruben Gabrielsen scored the first goal of the game.
Gabrielsen came to Austin FC as a potential hero for the team's center back position, but the club's resident Viking has already nabbed two goals in his first season with the team.
"That's center forward material," Austin FC announcer Adrian Healey said as Gabrielsen took control of Valencia's pass, paused to fake out the defense, and calmly tucked the ball into the left corner to complete the first goal of the match.
Even as LAFC dominated possession for much of the match, Austin FC saw another wide-open goal opportunity crumble as midfielder Diego Fagundez's shot hit the corner goalpost in the 23rd minute.
But Fagundez wasn't finished. The midfielder was short on his Verde hair dye but full of surprises as he nimbly sunk a shot over LAFC defense to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Fagundez, who has spent more time setting up goals for his teammates (becoming the No. 1 assister in the MLS in the process), finally took the center stage with his second goal this season.
Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff's own son, had a scoring opportunity of his own foiled by the goalpost as he started his first MLS match as one of the youngest starters in the league this season.
But Austin FC wouldn't score again; instead, LAFC powerhouse Carlos Vela made the win a bit trickier in the 86th minute as he got past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to cut the lead in half. The other Wolff quickly subbed in a five-prong defense as the club kept steady for the final 10 painstaking minutes to win the match.
BONUS: Stuver's career-making match
Six saves on the night in LA for Brad Stuver! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/02V6hcUd3Y— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2022
After two weeks on the bench due to a knee gash, Austin's star keeper Brad Stuver had the Stuver-iest match of all time (yes, we're making it a word) as he pulled off six saves to help his team to No. 1.
Stuver looked like a pinball machine as he pulled off save after save with his feet, hands and body to keep it nearly 100% clean on the back end.
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Experience luxury grooming the old-fashioned way at a revival of the Driskill Hotel’s early 1900s barbershop put on by Austin-based Finley’s. The pop-up will offer men’s haircuts, beard trims, hot towels, neck massages and straight razor shaves. Click here to book an appointment.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday | The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St.
Catch veteran Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby touring with her newest show, “Body of Work,” written while she pondered the effects of the pandemic. Tickets are still available in the orchestra section, starting at $60.
Doors at 6 p.m. Friday | The Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.
Alexander James O'Connor, AKA Rex Orange County, is returning to Austin to perform his newest album, “Who Cares?” Tickets are still available starting at $49 each.
Doors at 7:30 p.m. Friday | Germania Insurance Amphitheater, 9201 Circuit of The Americas Blvd.
Catch our local Minor League team play against the El Paso Chihuahuas at home this week. Tickets start at $22.
Starting 7:05 p.m. Friday | Dell Diamond, 3400 E Palm Valley Blvd.
Enjoy a night of indie-pop from Grammy-winning producer Jack Antonoff, whose stage name is Bleachers, from the intimacy of Stubb’s. Tickets are still available starting at $33.Starting 7:05 p.m. Saturday | Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater, 801 Red River St.
Catch the groovy, Bastrop-born brothers are taking their rightful place on stage with soulstress Latasha Lee at Antone’s. Arrive early, seating fills up quickly! The show is 21+ and tickets start at $15.
Doors at 7 p.m. Saturday | Antone's Nightclub, 305 E 5th St.
Famous former Longhorns Emmanuel Acho and Matthew McConaughey are joining forces for a Q&A about catching greenlights and living a limitless life. Each ticket will get the holder a copy of Acho’s new book, “Illogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits.” Tickets are $39 per person.
1:15 p.m. Sunday | LBJ Auditorium, 2313 Red River St.
Austin FC is facing off against Orlando City at the biggest party in Austin, Q2 Stadium. Tickets are still available starting at $65 but ticketless Verde fans can still support at one of the many Pub Clubs.7 p.m. Sunday | Q2 Stadium, 10414 Mc Kalla Pl.