Mr Petkow, for those that are not familiar yet with SPARC Industries, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and how your company was born?
Well, my origins are in the academic world. I studied aerospace engineering, did my doctoral degree at the University of Stuttgart. Then I had a fantastic two-year post-doc in the advanced concepts team at the European Space Agency. While I was there I worked on space propulsion and the type of software that we are developing at SPARC right now.
In 2013, I joined the Luxembourg-based company Gradel which eventually led to a spin-off in the shape of SPARC, a little more than one year ago. We have been making rapid progress since then.
SPARC works with plasma, right? What is plasma, and why is it important to the space industry?
Well, if you have frozen water, ice, and you heat it up, it will melt and become fluid. When you heat it up again, it will evaporate and become steam. And if you heat it up once more for long enough, it becomes what we call plasma.
What’s interesting is that, as well as being extremely hot, plasma also has a very unique feature – it is able to conduct electricity. Without realizing, we see it everywhere. Plasma is, for example, in many lamps. And if you light a candle, there is (weak) plasma around the flame.
In everyday life, we think that what we have here, on the Earth, non-plasma, is what’s normal, but that is not the case! The universe consists of 99.9% plasma. Planets like in our solar system that are the exception. We use plasma in fields like space flight and nuclear fusion research, but is has many other applications.
What is the market like for plasma technologies?
We’re in this field of known physics, where we adjust to the new, upcoming market. A market where satellites have to become smaller, cheaper, and perhaps even mass produced. Our propulsion system responds to these conditions. The setup is very simple. It is very light and it can be scaled up or down. This means we can respond to the major requirements of the new market.
Where are you in terms of development, with the propulsion technology and the plasma simulation software?
For the propulsion system, we are now in the procurement phase. We have the design of the first prototype. We have ordered the parts and expect delivery by mid of March 2019. The test phase is scheduled for the second half of April. In parallel, we continue to develop the software and to receive data from our partners in the European world of propulsion development. By the middle of this year, we intend to have the software validated against experiments.