Thomas Jefferson graduate’s start-up hopes to send small satellites into orbit

Abishek Murali is a graduate student at Purdue University.

Abishek Murali

Abishek Murali

Abishek Murali has his eyes set on outer space.

The 2013 Thomas Jefferson High School graduate and Purdue University graduate student is part of a start-up company that hopes to send small satellites into orbit.

Murali and four fellow students from Purdue, where Murali also completed his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, had the idea for the start-up during their junior year of college.

The idea was born from a shift in the aerospace industry, Murali said.

“Recently there has been kind of a turn,” he said. “People started developing small satellites.”

As the size of satellites has decreased, the technology used to launch them into space has also followed.

“It doesn’t make sense to launch something the size of a loaf of bread on a SpaceX rocket,” Murali said.

Leo Aerospace, Murali’s start-up, plans to use a hybrid rocket-hot air balloon – called a rockoon – to send the devices into orbit.

Once the rockoons have reached about 11 miles in altitude, the satellites will be released into orbit. The hot air balloon platforms, which will be slightly larger than a typical hot air balloon used for tourism, will return to Earth to be refurbished and reused.

Murali said one to three satellites, each weighing between 44 and 55 pounds, could be launched at a time.

Most of Leo Aerospace’s work so far has been figuring out the demand for providing satellite launching services.

“What we found through our customer discovery and market analysis is there are a lot of opportunities,” Murali said.

Small satellites have a variety of uses, including fighting illegal fishing, managing the health of crops and even tracking herds of sheep in New Zealand, Murali said.

“It’s a little bit out there,” Murali said of using the rockoons to launch satellites. “The idea sounds a little crazy at first.”

Leo Aerospace has done some small-scale design work on the rockoons, but is primarily focusing on raising capital, Murali said.

“Aerospace technology in general is really expensive,” he said. “All of the work right now has been around our funding round.”

The company has a goal of raising $250,000 and is more than halfway there.

Leo Aerospace has been working with Netcapital, an crowdfunding website.

The minimum buy-in to invest in Leo is $101.

“We wanted to make it very accessible to anyone who was interested,” Murali said. “You don’t have to have $25,000 to invest in the company.”

Murali and his business partners have been taking part in pitch competitions to earn more money for the company.

After he finishes his graduate program in 2019, Murali hopes the start-up will be his full-time job. The company is looking for space in business accelerators and business incubators throughout the country to help grow.

For more information about the company or to invest, visit leoaerospace.

Abishek Murali, third from left, has started Leo Aerospace, a company with the goal of sending small satellites into orbit with fellow students from Purdue University. Murali is a 2013 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School and now attends graduate school at Purdue. Courtesy Abishek Murali

Abishek Murali, third from left, has started Leo Aerospace, a company with the goal of sending small satellites into orbit with fellow students from Purdue University. Murali is a 2013 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School and now attends graduate school at Purdue. Courtesy Abishek Murali

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