Houston, we have a partner.
Space Tango is a company in Lexington set on creating a new global market 250 miles up in low Earth orbit. The company has its own Mission Operations Center and an office in the Bluegrass state with 24-hour data and audiovisual access to the astronauts on the International Space Station.
Louisville Future spoke with Kris Kimel, Space Tango co-founder, about the work they’re doing.
What does Space Tango do?
Kimel: Fundamentally we’re looking at how things–primarily biological, biomedical, and novel materials–react in a zero-G environment. The goal is to understand how things could improve on earth and learn how to manufacture those things in zero-G. Sometimes it’s either more efficient or more effective to be manufactured in zero-G.
What is your latest initiative?
Kimel: The newest initiative is actually a spinoff called Humanity in Deep Space. We’re looking at a planetary conversation as we continue to transition to a space-faring civilization. We’ve been to the moon. We’ve been in space since the sixties. People living and working in space for over a decade in the space station and we’ve got robots on Mars.
One of the big questions as we move into deep space, is how do we maintain our humanity? How do we deal with it, both physiologically and psychologically? We did our first live event in late 2019. We were planning on doing another in 2020. Then, of course, COVID hit, so we kept the conversation going.
Now we’re now doing a series of webinars on various topics. We’re pleased with the international response. For each webinar, we’re drawing 400 or 500 people registering for these from over 40 countries. Our website is still a work in progress, but it’s up and all of our workshops and webinars are recorded and they’re available.
Did you found Space Tango?
Kimel: I co-founded Space Tango with Twyman Clements. Twyman is the CEO. I was Chairman of the Board until December 31, 2020, when I stepped down from that role.
What’s your background that got you involved in this kind of work?
Kimel: I was president and CEO of Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation for over 25 years. One of the things we got into there was a commercial venture in space. We created a nonprofit company called Kentucky Space in which we designed and launched small satellites that were about the size of a Kleenex box. We did that for several years and then got an opportunity to build some technology for the International Space Station that moved us in a different direction. We created the for-profit company Space Tango and it’s been in operation for about six years.
Lexington may not be the first location people think of when it comes to involvement in the International Space Station…
Kimel: Although we started here, we now have offices and people in the Kennedy Space Center, Flroida’s Space Coast, Washington DC, and the Johnson Space Center.
Can you describe the technology you use?
Kimel: Doing work in zero gravity is hard because everything works differently. What might be a very simple thing like moving a fluid from here to here on earth can be very complicated in a zero-G environment.
The technology we develop and deploy depends on the nature of what we’re trying to accomplish. Is it biomedical? Are we doing something with cells? We’re doing a lot of work with stem cells right now. We work with retinal implants that need to be made in zero-G. In addition, we’ve done a reasonable amount of work with plants that are the basis for pharmaceuticals to see if they undergo structural changes in space that could make them more effective. It just depends on the experiment. The technology varies and is very complicated.
What do you think is behind the renewed interest in space?
Kimel: It’s because NASA adopted some innovative new plans and strategies for access to space. When they retired the Shuttle they created a pathway for private companies to enter the space market, like SpaceX and Dual Origin. The majority of the times we launched, we launched on SpaceX to the station.
That’s because of the policies that NASA adopted which were very innovative.
The second thing is the continued rapid miniaturization of technology. We can now do very intricate things in very small spaces that weren’t previously possible. Of course when you’re in space, everything is about weight and mass. Something that 10 or 15 years ago may have to have been the size of a bread box can now be done with something the size of a couple of pencils.
What are the advantages to being located in Lexington?
It doesn’t make a big difference where you are. I think there are advantages and disadvantages. We have no problem finding talent. We get talent from all over the world. There are very smart people in Lexington, many of whom are engineers who went to Kentucky schools like UofL or UK.
There’s a little bit of a disadvantage in the fact that there aren’t a lot of similar companies in this region that with whom we can collaborate. But we have collaborated with a company called TechShot, which is located right across the river in Indiana. But like I said, we have offices all over the place now.
Also, the cost of doing business here is considerably less here in Kentucky when compared to California, New York or Boston. I’d say the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.