After travelling the globe, Austyn Crites believes the world really isn’t that big after all.
“I started looking at what else is out there. There is so much more just beyond our atmosphere that it really lit my imagination. My team realized that there is no energy shortage … there may be here on Earth, but there are tons of resources waiting for us to capture,” said Crites, co-founder and president of Rockzip Highballoons. This Michigan City-based small business has been working with the Northwest ISBDC since 2013.
Crites is working with Martin Boix and Adam Studebaker to bring the concept of space travel to the masses as part of a “new space movement.”
“We are trying to figure out how instead of just thinking about far-off goals about how to make the first step,” Crites said of the start-up that is designing and crafting highballoons. “Highballoons are filled with helium, and are light enough and strong enough so that they can float up to the edge of space for substantial periods of time.”
The team will have the opportunity to network and gain exposure as a finalist in the 2014 Lightning Pitch Space Competition on July 24.
The event is a business plan competition that will spotlight start-ups and expanding businesses that are on the verge of new frontiers in the space exploration industry.
“The competition gives us a unique opportunity, as being a start-up … we wouldn’t have had much of a platform to present ourselves to the greater space community,” Crites said. “Since we are involved in the competition, it gives us a stage where we can explain to people what we are doing and bring other partners on board.
“That can translate into customers and investors, and industry contacts in general. These are people we will be working with over the next couple of decades to achieve mutual goals.”
The Rockzip team has been in the process of testing smaller balloons and subsystems and has been working toward its goal of launching the full-size prototype.
“Our goal is to get funding to be able to commercialize our first balloon. We are still looking for names. Does anyone have an idea?” Crites said.
He said the applications for highballoons range from weather tracking and telecommunications, to disaster relief and even tourism.
“After a tornado, where there is no Internet access or communications service, we could throw up balloons and have cell phone and internet coverage,” Crites said. “A company called World View is testing capsules to take up tourists that would hover at the edge of space for a few hours while looking down at Earth.”
As new space companies continue to emerge everywhere, Rockzip hopes to not only offer an affordable option but also build on the history of highballoons.
“Where highballoons have become interesting is that you have the opportunity to put lab ideas to the test,” Crites said. “Many technologies used today started by first having space applications. Cool stuff in space translates into our everyday lives.”