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Pale Blue: “The biggest challenge is the pace at which governments are developing policies for operating in space”

The Japanese start-up Pale Blue won the Mastermind Competition in the NewSpace category, as part of ICT Spring Europe in Luxembourg (September 14-15). Our team recently met its Director of Business Development, Toku Sakai.

Pale Blue aims to ensure sustainable space development around and beyond the Earth by water-based propulsion technologies. Pale Blue was founded in 2020 by researchers at The University of Tokyo who wanted to prove that science and technology maximize human well-being, and to drive small-satellite business by using water propulsion technologies.

What are the next projects/goals for Pale Blue?

Toku Sakai: Our ultimate goal is to make activity and mobility in space more accessible by providing the world's safest spacecraft engine at a very affordable price.

With this goal in mind, since our engines are already available for purchase and use, our most immediate project will be identifying new opportunities to spread awareness of our offering so that satellite and spacecraft manufacturers can consider our solution for future adoption.

In parallel, we're aiming to make our engines fully compatible with emerging in-space services such as orbital refueling.

As one of the safest and most versatile elements available, water is ideally suited to integrate with other emerging space services which can become additional advantages of using water-based engines. 

What is the biggest challenge that the NewSpace industry is facing right now?

T. S.: One of the biggest challenges of the New Space industry is the pace at which governments are developing policies and guidance for operating in space.

Having certainty about the operating environment ranging from how space debris will be mitigated to how space resources can be claimed or utilized is key in order for NewSpace startups to demonstrate a clear road to profitability in a short time horizon to attract significant funding. 

What are the main struggles you encountered when starting your business?

T. S.: Obtaining sufficient initial funding was certainly a big challenge.  We develop and build spacecraft engines so unlike software, there are significantly higher material costs for hardware R&D and manufacturing.

In addition, since major upside of the space market overall is still largely projected or anticipated over a long-time horizon, its considerably more difficult to raise private funding compared to more established industries which holds back how quickly we can commercialize our innovations and deliver them to market.

As specialists in water-based propulsion technology, we are already aware of numerous ways to potentially increase our engine capability further but funding constraints have been the main challenge.  

How did Mastermind Competition help to bring additional value to your business?

T. S.: The Mastermind Competition provided an indispensable international forum where we could introduce our vision and technology to a broad audience and also test the strength of our business model against very strong peers and seasoned judges.  As a start-up, it was invaluable to be able to see how our peers (including those in categories other than NewSpace) were identifying, resolving, and communicating their business challenges so that we could incorporate best practices and put our best foot forward. 

Read more about Mastermind Competition HERE