Kevin Stadnyk & Kirk Hovell: Developing Automatic Spacecraft Docking Systems

April 3, 2022

Obruta Space Solutions develops automatic spacecraft docking systems. Spacecraft docking is a key technology that enables the budding on-orbit economy: on-orbit servicing, logistics, manufacturing, and space debris removal. Obruta is working to ensure humanity’s sustainable use of space so that we may create a robust off-world economy that enhances all lives back here on Earth.

Tell us about yourself?

In a funny turn of events we both grew up in neighboring towns only 10 minutes apart, but first met 1,400 km away in a graduate research lab at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.

Kevin: For as long as I can remember I have always had an interest in space. I chose to attend Carleton University to pursue a Bachelors in Aerospace Engineering. I continued my studies at Carleton with a Masters of Applied Science: Aerospace Engineering focused on the continued development of space debris removal technology originally started by Kirk.

This work made me realize the importance of ensuring we develop a sustainable space economy, as otherwise there may not be an economy for the people who will come after me. In seeking to contribute in the best way we can, Kirk and I joined together to solve some of the most pressing technological issues holding the explosive industry growth back.

Kirk: Space is cool, and I’ve always liked math, so Aerospace Engineering was a great fit! I learned about the space debris problem during my Bachelors in Aerospace Engineering from Carleton University, which motivated me to complete a Masters and a PhD on the subject.

Space brings so many benefits to us on Earth, from GPS, to communications, to weather forecasting; it’s vital we keep the space environment clean and safe for future use. That’s what motivated me to research and develop technologies in this area and ultimately be a co-founder of Obruta.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Kevin: This advice is as relevant now as it would be a year or two ago, but the answer is always the same: start earlier. You can always find excuses for not doing something, but most often you will never regret taking the plunge and trying something new.

I like to keep this open mindset as I find it helps me tackle the daunting problems we face with growing a startup. However, it’s important to never be down about not starting early, as the second best time to start is now.

Kirk: Fill your down time with reading. There are so many great books out there and it’s never too early to start learning about what you’d like to accomplish next.

What problem does your business solve?

Obruta solves the complex problem of automatic spacecraft docking. Without the appropriate sensors and software, spacecraft are not able to safely approach and dock with each other in orbit.

Docking is a prerequisite for many emerging industries including space debris removal, refueling, life-extension, logistics, crew & cargo transport, and more. The next era of the space economy will be defined by spacecraft docking, and Obruta will be providing this key enabling technology.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

We were inspired to create Obruta based on our academic research on space debris removal technologies. Space debris has, and continues to be, a growing problem that affects the entire space industry.

We believe in sustainable development of the commercial space economy, which is why we are developing technologies that help ensure a sustainable and prosperous space economy. Space brings many benefits to our everyday lives on Earth, and we want to ensure these benefits continue well into the future.

What is your magic sauce?

Obruta is solely focused on spacecraft docking. Unlike others, we are not developing a spacecraft to provide our own on-orbit services. We are simply enabling others to enter the satellite servicing and logistics markets.

We are lowering the barrier to entry so that anyone can develop a space service, which will foster innovation and competition and help grow the space economy.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

We are working hard to reach orbit in 2023 and demonstrate our autonomous docking system. Proving the safety and reliability of our product is of the utmost importance, as doing so will give our customers confidence in our product. We will then be ready to sell commercially our off-the-shelf turnkey spacecraft RPOD Kit to lower the barrier to entry to the satellite servicing and logistics markets.

Today, there are tens of spacecraft dockings performed per year. The systems powering them are large, power hungry, and restrictive. In 5 years, we aim to power hundreds of spacecraft dockings per year across vehicles of all sizes.

Our goal is to make spacecraft docking a boring and commonplace event. From there, we will continue working until we are seeing 100 dockings per day and it’s as unremarkable as parking a car.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Building a space company is hard. It requires both hardware and software systems, large amounts of capital, and long time horizons. Thankfully we have been helped along the way by many amazing people across various partners, programs, and governments.

Our biggest upcoming challenge is reaching orbit and successfully demonstrating the safety and reliability of our product. We are up to the challenge, and will overcome it the same way we overcame obstacles to get to this point.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Anyone with a vision for space sustainability can get involved with Obruta. We advocate for space debris removal, reusable spacecraft, and policy changes in the space economy. On the technical side of things we primarily work in the areas of machine vision, guidance, control, and artificial intelligence.

If you are experienced in any of these areas and have an interest in space applications we would love for you to reach out to us at [email protected]. We’re also actively raising capital—reach out if you’re interested in being a part of the growing space economy!

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