COVID Creativity - Rogue Space Systems
To make sure you’ll understand what Rogue Space Systems in Laconia is all about, its founder Jeromy Grimmett first asks if you’ve seen “Star Wars” and if you know R2D2. Then he says, “Our Orbot™ is the same as R2D2, only it’s the size of a shoebox. And it’s a pretty smart little shoebox.”
Ultimately, a whole fleet of Orbots™ will be traveling into space to inspect and repair satellites and other space vehicles. One day, they may even start collecting space garbage. You’d be surprised how much is already floating around out there. With $1 trillion worth of satellites already in space, repairing them rather than junking them is the cost-effective option.
But, Orbots™ aren’t quite ready yet. Jeromy and co-founders Michael Pica and Jon Beam are still in the process of raising funding, while also finalizing prototypes.
The three Orbot™ prototypes in development are affectionately known as Laura, Charlie, and Fred (named after beloved family members) and each has its own specialty. Laura will inspect and observe space equipment to determine if repairs are needed. Charlie will have robotic arms that can do the repairs and “perform space surgery,” and Fred, the largest of the three, can work with a team of Freds to move and repair the bigger space vehicles.
As the Rogue Space website says, the company is “bringing robotic services to the space industry. We develop robots to deliver service solutions to satellite operators, manufacturers, and insurers….until now, satellite manufacturers and operators have had limited capabilities to observe, inspect, and service their satellites while operating in orbit.”
The first $1.07 million raised by Rogue will be used to develop Laura and her systems. At the crowd-funding site, they surpassed the $40,000 minimum in mid-January.
Jeromy, who calls himself a “Harvard drop-out,” has always been interested in space, and that interest got rekindled as he wrote various papers at Harvard. Then, in March of 2019, he attended the daylong MIT Space Conference and got hooked. At the end of the day, he called his business partner to announce, “We’re going to space!”
That doesn’t mean he necessarily knew how they were going to space. Early in planning his new business, he contacted NH SBDC and business advisor Rita Toth, who serves both Belknap and Grafton counties. “I just know as a business owner I have to surround myself with people who know more than I know, and I know I don’t have all the answers.”
He needed an advisor that could guide him through the planning stages and brainstorm how to find investors. She’s helped with pitch clinics and writing a business plan. “Rita was amazing,” he said. “She is relentless in her pursuit of excellence, she’s very well connected, and I know she would go to the ends of the earth to help.”
Though still in the start-up phase, Rogue Space is being discovered by the likes of NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. They’ve already signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with NASA—a space-age rideshare program. That means Rogue Space’s prototypes can tag along on rocket and satellite launches, as well as get three years of engineering and scientific support as they conduct tests for the government.
When NASA called one day in June 2020, Jeromy’s team had about 96 hours to develop a presentation to persuade the agency to let the Orbots™ ride along. They were still shaping the company’s structure, narrowing their focus, and weren’t 100 percent sure which space services they’d be offering. They were warned their presentation would be met with skepticism and constant interruptions. “We literally had nothing—no designs—and we had yet to develop our mission plan, our orbital mechanics and instrumentation. You know, no pressure,” Jeromy says.
Forty minutes into the presentation, however, Rogue Space got NASA’s green light.
“This never happens,” Jeromy says. “Outside of my marriage and my kids, that will always be one of the highlights of my life.”
In seven months they went from nothing to a fully designed, ready-to-launch spacecraft. “It was insane,” Jeromy says.
Their first planned launch for September 2020 had to be postponed, however. The pandemic had slowed everything down and placed them out of sync with the usual funding cycles of venture capitalists and angel investors. Undeterred, Rogue has responded well to the adjusted timeline. While continuing to raise money and finalize their prototypes, Jeromy is optimistic Orbot® Laura will be joining two or three launches in 2022.
Rita was present for the team’s NASA presentation, and Jeromy still calls on her at every stage of development. “Rita and the SBDC will work as hard as you to get the work done, but they don’t do it for you,” he said. “You get take-aways and to-dos and homework after every meeting, and you get guided through the process.”
He admits a challenge that Rogue Space Systems has is that nobody is yet doing what they propose, so it’s hard to visualize. Whereas a satellite takes three to five years to develop, once it’s up there, it’s up there, he explains. Far from being just up there, his Orbots™ will need to adapt to unknown conditions and time frames while they are gathering data. “It’s the exact opposite of a satellite,” Jeromy says. “We’re making real-life space robots.”
Business Name: Rogue Space Systems
Client Name: Jeromy Grimmett
SBDC Advisor: Rita Toth
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.