Craft Prospect – the NewSpace company providing quantum and AI-enabled space technologies for small satellite space missions – is the first incubatee to graduate from the business incubation centre (BIC) at the Higgs Centre for Innovation.
The Higgs BIC programme, created by the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, is based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. It supports high growth-potential start-ups in space technology, big data and high precision engineering.
Craft Prospect was accepted onto the programme in 2018 as a fledging team of 3 with a prototype and a vision.
Today, they graduate as a team of 15 with on-board AI-enabled saleable technology that can be adapted to the specific needs of each, individual satellite mission. They have commercial contracts with the European Space Agency (ESA), and their own space mission too.
We catch up with managing director and founder Steve Greenland, who shares with us the Craft Prospect journey.
Congratulations on your Higgs BIC graduation, Steve. Where did it all start?
“Thanks very much. Craft Prospect was about a year old when we were accepted onto the Higgs BIC programme in 2018. Then, we were just 3 people – and none of us worked full time on the business. At the time, the pot of money we were awarded through the BIC was transformational. It enabled us to bring on board the expertise we needed to help us commercialise our vision. Having the right skills embedded in the team, we were then able to take the prototype we had on our dev (development) boards, and turn it into something – a viable product that could be used in space!”
You’ve been on the Higgs BIC programme for 18 months, what has being at the Higgs enabled you to do?
“What was really attractive for us about business incubation at the Higgs Centre for Innovation, was the opportunity it provides to not only be at the centre of the innovation and tech scene in Edinburgh, but to also tap in to the wider STFC and University of Edinburgh networks too. We have been able to access a broad community who have helped us tremendously to ‘upskill’.
“For example, we’ve worked with the optical engineers at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) to really optimise our optical system. The UK ATC is a high-tech engineering facility delivering world-class instruments for the world’s biggest and most ambitious telescopes on land and in space, part of STFC and based at the Royal Observatory too. Being co-located on site, we enjoyed and took advantage of the many informal opportunities too, to chat and ‘brainstorm’ over lunch and coffees.
“Through the Business Development team managing the BIC programme, we were able too, to liaise with STFC’s Daresbury lab, in the North West of England. The additive manufacturing team there gave us invaluable advice about 3D printing for small satellites.
“The links with the academic community through the University of Edinburgh have also ‘opened doors’ and provided opportunities too.”
How have you created the capability for your AI-enabled space tech for small satellite space missions?
“It really has been an organic iterative process. As we’ve built our system and talked to a range of potential clients about their needs – we have evolved the offering. Now we can take clients’ requirements and deliver on-board AI tech solutions that are bespoke for each mission. Our journey in getting to this point?
Our first challenge was to take our prototype software system, and turn it into something ready for deployment into a satellite
Achieving that, then enabled us to engage with potential clients. It gave us something to show and demonstrate. At this stage we essentially had a marketing tool. A product that gave us a voice; a flag to wave – to show how our tech could add value to small satellite missions
Now we have three commercial contracts including with the European Space Agency (ESA), and we have interest from a number of different missions to use parts of the on-board AI tech we have developed
“We recently wrote an article on Medium about the huge opportunity for small satellite missions, and the wide range of science that can be conducted from them. It is a great overview to this dynamic, growing industry: https://medium.com/craft-prospect/cubesats-to-further-fundamental-science-3a77f2239371.”
You are also developing your own Cube-Sat hardware, tell us about that?
“Yes we are. For systems which just aren’t available on the market at this time. We are developing modules allowing both AI computing modules and secure quantum communications. We are really excited that as well as supporting our clients’ missions – we have our own mission, with support through the Satellite Applications Catapult accelerator programme.
“Our mission is the Responsive Operations and Key Services, or ROKS for short. This will be a proof of concept small satellite mission for quantum key distribution, which we hope to be ready for launch by the end of 2021. Our ambition is that it will pave the way for ground-breaking changes in data protection and encryption, and on-board automation.
“We developed this tech through our journey with STFC. And now we are able to take this forward through key relationships we have built with an ecosystem of universities – applying the learning from both our tech journey, and the tech solutions from our university friends.
“That Craft Prospect has its very own small satellite mission that will conduct experiments in space, is something we are extremely proud of and excited about.”
“Cassandra Mercury, our Manufacturing Assembly Integration Test Engineer sums up our experience at the Higgs perfectly. She says:
“Being a part of the Higgs community has been a fantastic experience to develop our Forwards Looking Imager and ROKS mission payload, establish links with the exciting space tech groups in Scotland, and to learn from a network of entrepreneurial scientists and engineers. The engineering models were developed here and the opportunity to talk over ideas, including with the Royal Observatory staff such as in the case of CubeSat optics, was invaluable. The offices are a warm environment and the top floor café area is a welcome respite during a hard day’s work!”
“When I founded Craft Prospect, it was my vision that was driving the company direction. Now, the company and its mission/vision has expanded beyond just one person – me – and is now an ecosystem of influence. And that feels really good.”
Where will be your new home?
“Right now during the COVID-19 response, we are of course all working from home. When we can, we are excited about moving our team of 15 into our new home at Govan shipyard in Glasgow. In the 1900s Govan was a community of shipyards – building ships for the world.
After a period of decline, the area has regenerated and is today home to a community of tech start-ups and other innovative business. It’s a vibrant centre that we can’t wait to be part of. And although a lot of our work can be done from home, hardware integration needs us to physically work together, so we are working on scenarios for us to do that safely, when we’re at our new base in Govan.”
Will you keep in touch with the Higgs Centre for Innovation?
“Absolutely, we found the Higgs to be an incredibly creative and supportive environment. The business support and the opportunity to tap into a powerful network helping us to broker key relationships and gain invaluable expertise, has been great. Not only that, the Higgs Centre also has state-of-the-art ‘appropriate’ clean-room facilities – with the right equipment, in one place, ready to be used.
“We’ll be back to use the facilities for vibe and thermal vac testing – which will be essential in ‘qualifying’ our hardware for flight worthiness.
“Whilst we’re not physically at the Higgs now that we’ve graduated from the Higgs BIC programme – we are most definitely still there in spirit.”
Thank you, Steve. It’s been great talking with you. Good luck with the ROKS and all your exciting work streams. We look forward to hearing that you’re settled in your new Govan home.
Of Craft Prospect’s graduation, Julian Dines, Head of Innovation, The Higgs Centre for Innovations, says “We are extremely proud to be celebrating the successes of our very first incubator company, Craft Prospect, to graduate from the Higgs BIC programme and move on to scale-up space elsewhere. The team have really harnessed the Higgs BIC offering – making full use of the knowledge-transfer opportunities through our place in the regional space ecosystem, and investing the incubation support in core skills. We look forward to seeing them return to test their ROKS hardware in our state-of-the art clean-room facilities. It looks like Craft Prospect have a great future ahead of them, and we are proud to have played a part in their journey.”