A start-up out of this world

Founded in December 2010 by entrepreneurs Alex Baker and Chris Rose, SentintoSpace manufacture and sell beginner kits for launching your very own mini space mission.

As PhD students, the duo entered a photography competition but having the meagre budget of students, they considered novel ways of achieving a unique and beautiful shot.

The result was an image of the earth from 37km high, taken with a budget £40 camera; which captured the curvature of the Earth, the thin blue line of the atmosphere, and the blackness of space.

Much media attention ensued and they focused their efforts on developing specific components and technology along with kits for the non-specialist to take on their own near space project.

BQ’s Bryce Wilcock caught up with Chris Rose to see how the business was getting on as it pioneers a relatively unknown industry.

Speaking on the business, Chris said: "Sentintospace.com is a pioneering company, whose work is quite literally out of this world. Firstly we are a one-stop shop for everything you might need to conduct your own project, as well as providing detailed tutorials and forums to share information and results.

He continued: "Secondly, having developed expertise in the field since the days of the first launch, corporate services are offered by the company for various purposes. To date the directors have worked on a plethora of projects including national and international advertisements for corporations and businesses; for example Natwest, the Savoy hotel, the motion picture Gravity, and many more (did you ever wonder how the bear in the Specsavers advert got into space?..)"

Another key part of the Sentintospace mission focuses on education and teaching children about space.

Chris continued: "These launches are not only exciting but are also a fantastic learning tool for students. Having worked with a number of schools it has become apparent just how engaging these projects are as well as meeting numerous key-stage teaching points on the national curriculum.

"It is a strong aim of the company to have these projects conducted in every school in the country at some point in the not too distant future."

As well as teaching students how to launch their own space mission, the entrepreneurial duo have also conducted a lot of self-research into space, publishing a number of academic papers on their dramatic findings.

"Being engineers and scientists we’ve been keen to have the company working at the cutting edge of scientific research. This work gained further international media attention (including features on Morgan Freeman’s ‘Through the Wormhole’, as well as working with the Discovery Channel amongst others), particularly regarding their work on high altitude sampling of the upper stratosphere."

The company was entirely self-funded. The duo looked into securing a bank loan when they started however they were unsuccessful due to the uniqueness of their proposals.

Chris said: "Doing PhD’s in engineering we took on a multitude of projects to try and earn a little extra money, all of which went back into funding development. We were keen to maintain 100% of the business so didn’t look into venture capitalists as an option. Family members were helpful to lend a hand when we were desperate! "

As a start-up the duo were quite self-reliant. "We’ve largely been fairly self reliant, and at times perhaps a little naïve in the early days. We’ve worked with some great suppliers, manufacturers and design teams that have been very helpful and willing to operate outside of their remit with questions and general help. "

When asked what their biggest challenge has been so far, he added: "A tree, a massive great tree - Easily 120ft with our payload at the top. Alex only fell out once. We now carry more climbing gear!"

The firm now aims to supply their products to as many schools as possible.

"It’s an ideal learning tool for kids as it gets everyone involved. Creative types can get busy with the decorating and designing of the payload whilst the lovers of maths and physics (there are some I promise) can look into the science behind the balloons ascent, calculate the burst altitude and predict the landing site. It really is science in disguise and we want to get this out there so teachers are aware. "

"All in all, Sentintospace is a novel and exciting new company at the cutting edge of technological exploration with strong ties to education, research and innovation."

As the firm looks to progress, BQ look set to follow the business journey as far as its balloons take it from Sheffield to Saturn.