A Startup’s Journey from the SpaceCom Stage to ISS aboard SpaceX Dragon

By Steve Wolfe, Deputy Executive Director, SpaceCom


SpaceCom gives a hearty shout out and congratulations to Dan Katz and Orbital Sidekick for the successful launch their HEIST instrument mounted on the NanoRacks External Payload Platform (NREP) delivered by the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) on July 3. It’s got to be a good feeling.

Orbital Sidekick’s HEIST instrument launch on July 3rd is set to operate a compact hyperspectral sensor system for commercial Earth observation. Satellites with Orbital Sidekick’s hyperspectral sensors will allow users to obtain global data sets with a minimum amount of resources.

At SpaceCom, we’re especially proud of Orbital Sidekick because we feel like our event was the midwife to its success.

Let me explain.

It was November 2016 at the second SpaceCom Conference and Exposition in Houston, TX. On the final day of the conference, SpaceCom hosted a ‘shark tank’ panel featuring eight promising start-up companies to present their business case to our expert investor panel. Orbital Sidekick was one of them.

I recall guiding an enthusiastic Dan Katz to the stage where he presented his vision for Orbital Sidekick, a company that would supply multi-spectral satellite remote sensing analytics to benefit the oil & gas, defense, agribusiness and other industry sectors with advanced intelligent data to solve real problems. Dan stood out as having done his homework both in terms of technical innovation and market potential.

At the time, Dan was still at the friends-and-family stage in his funding cycle. But that all changed when he came off the stage. Connections he made at SpaceCom steered Dan to David Zuniga of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (David has since left CASIS). The series of discussions that followed resulted in CASIS awarding a development grant to Orbital Sidekick, as well as a ride to the ISS to prove their technology.

That ignited a whirlwind year-and-a-half for Dan and his team.

I caught up with Dan in Silicon Valley earlier this year while I was attending Space 2.0. Dan had no time to attend the conference, so we agreed to meet for coffee in Mountain View. He arrived tall, bearded, a little disheveled and extremely pumped. The first thing he said to me was how he will always have a warm memory of SpaceCom because that’s where his plans for Orbital Sidekick started to really take off. That made my day.

Dan let on that he had just gotten out of meeting with a funder (literally just before our meeting) and would make a major announcement in the coming weeks. After some prodding, he shared with me that he had just secured $4.5 million in additional funding for his new company. I assured him I wouldn’t say anything before the news went public.

Then he was off again. If he didn’t have time for Space 2.0, he certainly didn’t have much time for me.

Dan Katz and his Orbital Sidekick experience represents what SpaceCom is embodies. SpaceCom is at the epicenter of the emerging commercial space sector. Companies are nurtured there and are strengthened through their involvement.

After the launch I spoke with Dan by phone, and here’s what he said about SpaceCom:


“The value of SpaceCom was in the connections and discovering other types of R&D opportunities that existed in form of taking advantage of platforms that I didn’t know existed for small companies such as Orbital Sidekick. I had no idea there was a program such as CASIS that would allow us to take our nascent, immature technology and turn it into an ISS program. That was really amazing. It really opened my eyes to the potential and capability of what existed and to what was out there.”


All of us at SpaceCom wish Dan Katz god speed and great success in the months and years ahead.