All innovative endeavors require an injection of know-how and people with vision and ambition. Astri Polska is no different. Over the course of eight years it has evolved from a small research unit into the ESA’s partner in its own right. Deriving all of its revenue exclusively from space tech, the company is testament to Poland’s potential in the space race. Jacek Mandas, CEO of Astri Polska, explains how the company managed to find its niche in space tech
Interview by Beata Socha
WBJ: Astri Polska is the first Polish company whose entire revenue comes from space tech. What exactly do you specialize in?
Jacek Mandas: In short, we design and deliver systems for satellite testing, as well as space applications and services. But it’s important to clarify that the space industry can be divided into two main categories: the development of space technologies – the so-called “upstream,” and creating solutions utilizing space tech, the so-called “downstream.”
The three main types of space tech are: navigation, telecommunication and satellite Earth observation. Astri Polska is active in all three. That includes devices used for testing satellites, particularly their electronic and optic systems. We deliver solutions for the main missions carried out by the (ESA) and the European Commission. We also test GNSS satellite navigation receivers used in space. We ensure that the specific systems in satellites launched into space will work properly.
“The 5G technology will offer much higher precision, pinpointing the location within 1 meter, also inside buildings.”
Apart from creating space technologies, Astri also specializes in developing our own applications. We design dedicated applications and services using data from Earth observation satellites for land and water management as well as crisis management. We also design devices and services using satellite navigation for geolocation.
The European Space Agency has recently approved the FLIGhT and TEcHNO projects, where Astri Polska is also involved. What is the FLIGhT project and when is it scheduled to be completed?
The purpose of the FLIGhT project creating a test environment that will allow the European Navigation Laboratory, part of the European Space Research and Technology Centre, to integrate its research instruments. Our test environment will be used to test the ESA’s satellite navigation receivers. They will be installed in satellites and launch vehicles. The ESA has already approved the design stage and now we are entering the production phase of the test environment.
Astri Polska is responsible for the entire project. We are planning on delivering the testing environment in Q4 2018. It will become a vital component of the ESA’s testing infrastructure.
The TEcHNO project can be used for improving the global positioning system. How is it done now and what will change in the future (e.g. once the 5G technology is introduced)? How precise can geolocation become?
The TEcHNO project aims to cut down on the time necessary to locate an object with increased precision, while improving the reliability of navigation systems. Most smartphones contain navigation satellite receivers using the global satellite navigation systems (GNSS). To some degree, cell phones already use the LTE technology to speed up pinpointing a phone’s position, which allows the device to “know” which satellites to communicate with. LTE technology has the capability to determine the device’s location using telecommunication signals, but it is rarely used, because base stations are not equipped for it. That is what our project will do: check whether a standard LTE telecommunication signal can be used for positioning. What will happen once 5G is introduced? LTE allows us to locate a device with a margin of a few meters. The 5G technology will offer much higher precision, pinpointing the location within 1 meter, also inside buildings – something that is impossible with only satellite navigation.
What other space projects is the company involved in?
We are currently working on 20 projects. We are designing and manufacturing testing equipment for the JUICE probe, which will study Jupiter; for the European meteorological satellites: the Sentinel-5 and MetOp-SG missions; as well as for Eurostar Neo telecommunication satellites. We also deliver dedicated applications and services utilizing data collected by Earth observation satellites, which will be used to analyze the ice cover on Polish rivers and monitor the condition of flood banks.
“We would really like to see our know-how used to build Polish satellites in the future.”
In satellite navigation, we are currently performing radiation tests of the highly advanced AGGA-4 intergrated circuit that will be used in the space receivers of satellite navigation systems. While the circuit is exposed to heavy ions and protons, simulating space radiation, our devices are monitoring its performance.
What are the company’s origins and how quickly is it developing?
The company was created by a handful of visionaries working together with major stakeholders experienced in the space industry: the key space institute in Poland: the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Airbus Defence and Space – a world leader in the sector. For the first few years, we basically worked on R&D projects to gain experience. But over the past couple of years, Astri has become a fully-fledged partner for the European Space Agency and other important players. The firm’s growth accelerated once we’d joined key ESA programs such as Neosat, MetOp, Juice, Euclid and AGGA-4 as a supplier of specific products.
Astri’s growth is evidenced by the fact that we have doubled our workforce over the past two years, reaching a staff of 80 and we are still looking for more employees. Over the eight years since inception, we’ve participated in a total of 50 projects, becoming the ESA’s trusted partner. We look forward to the implementation of the Polish Space Program and we would really like to see our know-how used to build Polish satellites in the future.