G2V Optics has sent solar simulators to NASA to help test a spacecraft that aims to solve Earth's growing space-junk problem. It's the latest success in the Edmonton-based company's evolution toward using its "Engineered Sunlight" technology to help aerospace organizations know what to expect from the sun once they get their devices into orbit.
"It's a huge project, and ... a fantastic feather in the cap of everybody in our team who worked on it," G2V Optics CEO Ryan Tucker told Taproot. "And I think an awesome thing for Edmonton and our technology."
G2V Optics has received US$822,100 in contracts from NASA since 2021. This project, the culmination of a two-year procurement process, is for the testing of OSAM-1, a spacecraft that is scheduled to be launched in 2026 to service Landsat 7, a satellite that is past its prime. If OSAM-1 can successfully dock with Landsat 7 and refuel it, then NASA will be a step closer to increasing the life expectancy of satellites, even those that were not designed to be serviced in orbit, and decrease the number of out-of-commission craft at risk of smashing into each other around our planet.
This is not the first foray into the space business for G2V Optics. In addition to a previous contract with NASA laboratories, the company has been working with the Centre nationale d'études spatiales (CNES) in France to enable the testing of technology involved in the 2024 Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, in which a rover will land on Phobos and fly by Deimos.
"We don't put anything into space. But we're creating all the photons to make sure that everything works when they send it there," Tucker said, noting that it's fun to have a preview of the space research going on. "We kind of get to peek behind the curtain of these really interesting and exciting space exploration missions before they become public."
Space is not where G2V Optics started when it was founded in 2015. After founder and CTO Michael Taschuk first developed the company's light-emitting diode technology at the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta, its first applications tended to be in food production, specifically to maximize the efficacy of vertical farming.
"From a technical perspective, (we) did remarkable things," Tucker said. "We were able to grow 30% more biomass with the same amount of energy and improve what was possible by using the complexity of our technology. But we realized that we were too early for that market ... it's such a nascent industry that's dealing with its own challenges around scaling."
At the same time, solar cell researchers and aerospace companies were ready for what G2V makes.
"We all of a sudden started working in this sector, with this more complex requirement, that was a perfect fit for what we had developed," Tucker said. "That's the traction that you're looking for, right? Your job as a startup is to find that fit. And it wasn't exactly where we thought it was. But we were, I like to think, smart enough to listen to it and to chase it when we found it."
Despite G2V's success in cracking this market and the investment-fuelled growth of space-data company Wyvern, Edmonton doesn't have what Tucker would call a "space economy," but he's excited about the future.
"It just goes to show that companies like ours can work with the world-leading institutes, engineers, astronauts, and programs in aerospace," he said.
G2V has sent two large-area solar simulators, each about the size of a bus, to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to help the OSAM-1 team anticipate the conditions under which their spacecraft will operate.
"For that team, they have this mantra ... 'Fly as you test; test as you fly'," said Tucker. "Essentially what that means for them is that this mission spacecraft — and all of the robotics, the cameras, the sensors, the power systems — they're going to test it in the most realistic conditions that it's going to exist in while it's up in space."
A previous mission involving the Canadian Dextre robot ran into trouble because of an unexpected reflection into the visualizing camera, effectively blinding the operators, says G2V's case study for the OSAM-1 project. The OSAM-1 mission will take place in full sunlight because of the location of Landsat 7's orbit by 2026, so G2V Optics was an attractive vendor.
"G2V had an existing product line that could meet our needs, a firm understanding of what we desired, and the engineering expertise in-house to convincingly verify all technical requirements," says the case study.
The company's success is getting recognized closer to home as well. G2V Optics won the "Leading Edge of Distinction" award at the 2022 Alberta Business Awards of Distinction from the Alberta Chambers of Commerce on June 24.
Hear more from Ryan Tucker about the G2V Optics story on an upcoming episode of Bloom, Taproot's podcast about innovation in Edmonton.