While terrestrial-centric businesses trudged through 2009, things went considerably better for Princeton Satellite Systems (U.S. 1, August 12, 2009). “Last year was our most profitable year ever,” says Michael Paluszek, founder and president of the software and systems design firm. “Both 2008 and 2009 were good, but last year was very good.”
Even during its move from downtown Princeton to Plainsboro last summer, Princeton Satellite was in the throes of developing a few, mainly military, projects that were starting to turn some heads. The most earthbound was a mobile wind turbine setup for the U.S. Army. At that time Princeton Satellite had just submitted its proposal for the project, which was designed to provide a portable 5-kilowatt power station that could be mounted on the tops of desert vehicles.
The funding for Phase I of the design (which came from federal stimulus money) is over, and the push to find some outside private capital is on, Paluszek says. Phase II is the more commercial side of things — Princeton Satellite is looking for about $500,000 to develop the two-blade turbine into something that could be mounted not on the roofs of combat vehicles, but on those of suburban homes.
Wind power, though not a viable energy source in comparatively windless New Jersey, is a potentially solid commodity in states prone to steady winds. But wind power has not caught on in most places because the apparatus needed to generate power is huge and expensive.
Paluszek and crew want to develop 2-kilowatt power generators for the residential and general commercial market, to fit on big box retailers, warehouses, or “anything with a big, flat surface.” Smaller and cheaper, these units could be compounded on a rooftop to augment or even supply full power to a home (which might use two or three units) or business (which, if you are the size of a Super Wal-Mart, could be more than 100).
Paluszek is aware of the problems inherent to any wind power technology. Solar, which is advancing rapidly and getting cheaper by the day, has a major advantage over wind power in that, once installed, a solar panel “just sits there. There are no moving parts.” And the ability to transmit wind-generated power over any significant distance is problematic, not to mention the fact that if there is no wind, there is no power.
Princeton Satellite is marketing and developing around these problems, and Paluszek treats the situation with an almost diffident, “We’ll see what happens.” By February the company will have submitted its Phase II proposals to the Army and be ensconced in wind tunnel testing. Part of the new research, Paluszek says, will deal with fluid and aerodynamics. Once these complicated, occasionally impish factors are better understood, Princeton Satellite will know better how to develop the project.
As for Paluszek’s celestial ambitions, there is the SRT. If Princeton Satellite has any say, its Space Rapid Transit system will put space travel and tourism an industry on par with air travel.
A next-generation space shuttle, the SRT is a rocket plane that takes off like an airliner, rather than from a launching pad. And while it has two stages — meaning that a main part of it will be jettisoned after takeoff — it, like the shuttle, is designed to be used repeatedly.
The number one problem with space travel, says Paluszek, is its cost. The average space shuttle launch tops out at $450 million, and that cost is mainly due to how much hardware cannot be reused. Paluszek envisions the SRT as the path toward more affordable space flights and, subsequently, as the harbinger of space tourism.
There are two versions of the plane in the works — a smaller model designed for small satellite payloads, and large one capable of carrying up to six astronauts.
In 2010 Paluszek hopes to hire two new engineers, one of whom will be stationed at a research facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the education front, Princeton Satellite is setting up a CubeSat club at John Witherspoon Middle School in conjunction with Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.
CubeSat is one of Princeton Satellite’s methods of getting kids exposed to engineering and space science, but getting them to think about how they would get payloads into space.
Getting kids excited about math and science will go a long way toward rebuilding the Space Age, Paluszek says.
Born and raised mainly in upstate New York, Paluszek moved to Ontario when his father, a mechanical engineer for large construction firms, was reassigned. Paluszek enrolled in MIT, where he did his undergraduate and graduate work in the 1970s.
After college Paluszek was content to stay at MIT, where he worked on rocket propulsion at Draper Laboratory. But a recruiter from GE AstroSpace brought him to GE’s East Windsor facilities, where he then worked in rocket andsatellite operations.
Paluszek started Princeton Satellite in 1992. By 1997 he had designed flight software for the Indostar-1 satellite, which has been flying since that year. He also led the effort to develop the momentum management system for the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (known by its phonetic nickname, pronounced “TEE-dris”), one of a network of communications satellites used by NASA for communication to satellites or the International Space Station, for Hughes.
An avid recreational ballet dancer, he also is captain of the supernumeraries (non-singing actors) for the Opera Company of New Jersey.
Princeton Satellite Systems, 6 Market Street, Suite 926, Plainsboro 08536; 609-275-9606; fax, 609-275-9609. Michael Paluszek, president. www.psatellite.com.