February 23, 2024

This Startup Is Building Robots to Make Space Travel Safer and Cheaper

Tokyo-based company Gitai is developing a small worm-like robot that can perform repairs in space as well as a robot that can perform tasks on the surface of the Moon.

Sho Nakanose passion for robotics which was prompted by a tragedy: the death of his mother ten years ago. Although not a doctor, the idea that new technology could make things different took off.

“At the time, I strongly thought, if we could have new technology as an extension of human capabilities, I could save her life,” he says.

Ten years later, the 36-year-old has channeled that tragic inspiration into his Japanese startup, Gitai. The company, which has so far raised over $47 million from venture capital firms such as Daiwa Corporate Investment Growth Fund, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital IX and Global Brain CVC Funds, aims to build robots that can work in space on various missions, including soil sampling on the Moon. But at the heart of Nakanose’s company is a simple idea: that using robots in space will save people’s lives and health.

It is expensive and dangerous for humans to live and work in space. For example, the costs start with flying a crew into orbit or to the International Space Station $58 million per seat. Space travel also carries many risks for those involved. According to NASAradiation exposure from space travel can increase the risk of cancer, damage the central nervous system causing difficulty for the brain to communicate with sensory organs, alter cognitive functions, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral challenges.

For Nakanose, using robotic technology could be a more affordable and practical way to explore space without endangering human life. He says Gitai’s goal is to reduce space labor costs by 100 times by using their robotic technology and mitigate safety risks by sending the robots into orbit instead of humans.

The startup currently manufactures two products. The first is a 2 meter inch worm type robotic arm. The machine is able to move like an inchworm and can be “equipped with various attachments such as electric drills, shovels and robotic arms to perform a range of tasks,” says Nakanose. This could reduce the number of hours astronauts need to make spacewalks to perform maintenance or repair tasks on spacecraft or space stations.

Its second product is a Lunar robotic rover, which is about the size of a go-kart and has a range of several miles. “This rover has the ability to navigate and operate on the surface of the moon,” says Nakanose This is important as NASA prepares to return humans to the Moon permanently.

GItai isn’t the only space robotics company out there. The current market is dominated by companies such as Canada’s MDA Space, which created the robotic arm for the International Space Station, and Luxembourg-based Redwire, which manufactures robotic systems for spacecraft. The demand for space robotics is growing, and analyst firm Grand View Research estimates the total market will exceed $5 billion by 2027. The demand is due to the need for “effective repair, service and maintenance of geostationary satellites,” according to a report from the firm. “Cost-efficiency, better productivity, and the ability to operate in the vast environment of space are the main factors driving the demand for space robotics technology,” the report says.

Despite the legacy companies’ dominance, Christopher Stott, an analyst at Lonestar Data Holdings Inc., says Gitai’s technology could enable it to take on its legacy competition. “While MDA and Redwire are the industry’s leading suppliers of space robotics today, Gitai could give them real competition to become the equivalent of SpaceX in their market share,” says Stott.

The company already has a number of customers in the industry. Nakanose says the company has a lot to offer other space companies. “We can be a good partner to minimize the infrastructure costs such as transportation and labor costs together,” he says.

Ten years ago, Nakanose’s life had nothing to do with robotics or space. He was an IT consultant at IBM Japan in 2009, replacing old customer systems with new SAP (German software company) systems. But it wasn’t long before he was looking for another path, he says, because “he wasn’t cut out to be a corporate employee in a big company,” says Nakanose. So in 2013, he moved to India and started CloudLancer India, Pvt, Ltd, a company that operated two main businesses, contracting web system development for clients and developing their own web and smartphone applications with for marketing and education. He sold CloudLancer in 2015 to an Indian Company for an undisclosed amount, then moved back to Tokyo to pursue his passion for robots.

In 2016, Nakanose founded Gitai, with the aim of building cheaper robotic systems to aid in space construction and maintenance. The company name means “Cybernetic body” in Japanese, but is probably more recognizable as the name of the cybernetic bodies in the anime movie Ghost in the Shella favorite of Nakanose.

In 2021, the company says successfully he made his first technology exhibition in the International space station with an autonomous space robot capable of simulating lunar exploration and construction as well as spacecraft repair. In 2024, the company will launch another technology display outside the ISS. The company also has more missions with the Japanese space agency, Toyota and others.

In May, the company raised a series B round of $ 30 million, and it aims to use that capital to expand its operations in the United States at its Torrance, California location to increase its manufacturing capacity. Nakanose says that the most important project for the company in the future is to develop robots that aim to build solar panels, communication antennas, residential modules and generators in space and deliver thousands of robots to the lunar surface.

“As a start-up we will provide thousands of robots to the lunar and Martian surface to build many solar panels, communication antennas, habitation modules and generators,” says Nakanose. “will be our most important project in the near future.”


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