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Launch HN: Epsilon3 (YC S21) – Software for spacecraft and complex operations
149 points by llcrabtree 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments
Hi HN, we’re Laura, Max, and Aaron, the founders of Epsilon3 (https://www.epsilon3.io/). We make software to help space companies run billion-dollar missions and avoid costly and disastrous mistakes.

When you're building a rocket or satellite, you have written checklists and procedures for how to test and operate it. Believe it or not, most companies still do this on paper or Microsoft Word. We are making this digital. Think of it like supercharged checklists plus version control (like Asana + Github). This is useful for the space industry and anyone else with complex testing and operational workflows.

There is massive growth right now in the number of space startups and of spacecraft and people launching into space. Payloads are being launched multiple times per day; you don’t hear about most of those on the news. There are so many companies building amazing technology for space (hotels, debris removal, construction robots, etc.). But to support this growth and keep everyone safe, the industry needs massively better software than the inefficient and error-prone stuff that’s out there now. U.S. space mission failures have cost $18.6B ($31B worldwide), and the average company wastes $400,000 in engineering hours per year managing procedures inefficiently.

We are a team of engineering and design leaders from SpaceX, Google, Northrop Grumman, and Stanford. I spent 11 years at SpaceX and 5 years at Northrop working on spacecraft operations. I’ve taken part in over 100 launches and was the lead trainer for astronauts who went to the space station and back last year. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to software tools and managing operations.

Starting Epsilon3 came as a surprise—we were surprised that it was still necessary! I had always envisioned a unified set of tools to operate vehicles and complex engineering systems, and assumed that one existed that I just hadn’t come across yet. But after I left SpaceX and began talking to my colleagues and friends in the industry, it became clear that the tools they wanted (and that I wanted too) just didn’t exist yet. In calls with colleagues across the industry, I heard “I’d use that if it existed,” “I’ve looked for that but never found anything remotely close to what I’d want,” “If you build it, people will use it,” and “Wow, that would be great, tell me when you have an MVP.” So we were lucky to start from the beginning with the knowledge that people were in need of our platform.

Our software brings complex operational procedures into a modern web-based platform, built using React, Node, CouchDB, Flask, and Supabase, and running on AWS GovCloud for ITAR compliance. We support the entire life cycle of a project from integration and testing through live operations. With Epsilon3, you can create, revise, and track procedures online with critical mission data collaboratively, all in one place and in a standardized way. Real-time synchronization of procedure status and updates guarantee that everyone’s always on the same page and knows who is doing what, when, and where.

This may not sound like the hardest software problem out there, but this industry has a lot of challenges that more ordinary project management tools can’t handle, which is why these projects have stuck with Microsoft Word and spreadsheets (and even paper) for so long. Real-time synchronization of data and user interfaces across earth and space with low latency and high reliability is hard. Supporting complex workflows and detailed tracking while also maintaining simplicity and delightfulness of user experience is also hard. There is also a lot of telemetry and commanding data involved, and finding ways to display and visualize it is tricky. There are mission-critical security and reliability requirements. Finally, everyone’s workflows and data are in different formats and have different needs, and finding generalized solutions and methodologies to support all of them is challenging.

Our vision is that when operating your system, you’ll need only two tools to manage it: your C2 (command and control) system, and Epsilon3. You won’t need to communicate via email, chat, tickets, etc. anymore. You also won’t need to store your data on a hard drive or manage an Excel spreadsheet. This will not only simplify your operation, but it will make it easier for the next generation of operators to come up to speed quickly and enable future spacecraft automation.

While doing hot fire testing of new rocket engines, one of our customers said, “Epsilon3 makes some incredible software that we use for our engine test operations (among other things) to make sure we don’t blow ourselves up.” Running hardware testing for new robotics, transportation, and spacecraft hardware, another customer said, “It's made running our tests much easier and more systematic.” Those sorts of comments are what we hope to achieve industry-wide!

A video demo is available at https://bit.ly/3AItU2w. We’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and questions in this, uh, space!

p.s. There was a small HN thread about us a few months ago (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26506819). We’ve made significant progress since then.






Wow. This is enormously impressive. I currently work for a small startup based out of Denmark in the renewable energies space (wind turbines) developing web based tools to assist in our ML operations.

With a lifelong obsession with cosmology and astronomy, and perhaps even more applicably relevant; our own human advancement to and into the stars, I have increasingly become more and more inclined to the notion of further developing my current skillset with the eventual goal of transitioning to the space industry.

My recent experience and exposure to renewable energies has given me massive insight to just how important companies like you guys are to furthering humanity’s progress. My question to you all regarding your technology, is how you manage what I imagine to be extraordinarily large, rich, and complex datasets that must vary between use cases (you mention hotels, debris removal, etc.). The data between these use cases must vary in structure— how is it normalized/standardized to work with your pipeline(s)? The commonality I see (as a fairly novice layman in terms of space technology) is of the rocket propulsion, orbiting, and payload delivery kind, but I’m sure the data it is far more nuanced and goes far beyond that.

Furthermore, is any sort of machine learning applied on your side, perhaps in some sort of statistical analysis / metric reporting?

I’m going to definitely keep an eye on you all at Epsilon3. Perhaps you will be looking for more engineers with web dev, data, ML, and cyber/info security experience in the future!

Huge props. I can tell there is an extraordinary amount of innovation involved with this venture. Excited to see where you all go with this =)


Thank you for the kind words and great questions.

We have been very thoughtful to build as flexible a framework as possible to support all those various use cases you said (not only in our user interface but also our API). We want to give end-users across the continuum of use cases the tools they need to be able to make Epsilon3 as useful for them as possible.

We have a ton of ideas on applying ML on our side for exactly those use cases you described (metrics, analysis, reporting) but also for anomaly detection, error handling/risk reduction, and continuous improvement.

We have our job openings posted at https://angel.co/epsilon3/. We're always on the lookout for strong full-stack software engineers.


This is awesome and made my day knowing that the space industry is big enough to support a startup building this kind of ops tooling.

You said “you don’t hear about most of those on the news” and you’re right - most of the customer logos on your website I’d never heard of - is there a website / twitter / ? that you rely on for daily coverage?

I would love to build a better view of the industry, players, priorities.


Cheers! Thank you!

https://orbitalindex.com/ is an amazing resource.

https://jatan.space/ is another that I follow.

Payload Research newsletter rocks too: https://mailchi.mp/payloadresearch/bezos-leaves-earth?e=e515...

There's even a Slack bot to be notified of launches (most of which you don't hear about on the news): https://groundcontrolbot.space/


I run Payload Space. We are about to transition from a weekly newsletter to a media company. We hope to solve the problem that there is no real media coverage of the business and policy of space.

Cool service.

FYI: after signing up with the MailChimp form, clicking the “Continue to website” link on the signup confirmation page results in a 404.


Thanks, we just built a new site and hiring some journalists. The MailChimp was just MVP to see if people cared about space news (which they clearly do).

Expect a much more professional site in the coming weeks.


Yes! Super excited about this too. We love seeing information being shared about this industry more freely than before! And an increased interest doesn't hurt either. =)

Orbital index has a very good email letter they send out with news, links, and great commentary. Sign up on site above.

NewSpace Hub (https://newspacehub.co/) is also a great resource for tracking all of the new startups, and existing, in this industry.

Awesome thank you

I second both Orbital Index and Payload Research!

Love this! It's certainly surprising that something like this doesn't exist for the space industry yet (and other industries that do complex texting and operations). Glad to see someone working to fill that gap especially as the commercial space industry starts to blossom. Couple of thoughts/questions:

1.) How do you convince space orgs that using a third-party SaaS offering is a better approach than building it in-house? Especially as part of the ERP the org may be using already?

2.) Does Epsilon3 support scripted procedures? What language(s) does it support?

3.) Any thoughts on a ChatOps like interface (e.g. Slack)?


Joseph, for #1, I've worked on in-house tools and: 1. They never get enough developers. 2. They usually get deprioritized in lieu of other projects. 3. Many small space companies don't have resources to build awesome in-house tools.

It can be really time consuming and take the team's focus off of the primary goal as well, so we try to get teams to focus on the things that they are uniquely qualified to do, rather than build software to support their operation.


> 1. They never get enough developers. 2. They usually get deprioritized in lieu of other projects.

As a dev currently building out several fairly-complex in-house tools for a small startup, I can relate to this first-hand.

It’s enormously frustrating as a perfectionist with a slightly neurotic obsession with (in a balanced and healthy way, trust me ;D) and appreciation for best practices, I have had to (against better judgement) sacrifice many things such as extensive time spent on in-depth automated testing, abstraction of reusable code for polymorphism and shared packages, extremely in depth documentation, and many other aspects that would contribute to long term viability and efficacy. This is of course for the sake of a business-friendly timeline, and that I can appreciate.

There is a definite balance, and I have (and continue to) learn enormously from this business view on software. The “it just works” ethos can be scary further down the road. The economic upsides to this perspective for an MVP or POC type of development are absolutely massive, but I can’t help but think this could be supplemented further by dedicating more resources to focusing on best practices.

Whether that focus comes from an internal team with more dedicated resources or a third party, I’m still unsure as to how that decision should be made.

Either way, it has been very helpful in further developing my skills in communicating things like tech debt (what notions like automated testing actually mean in terms of value to a SaaS company) to the CEO and other colleagues who do not have software dev experience.


This is 100% my experience too. Something has to give when you're developing a tool for in-house use only. The same practices you'd use for developing a tool for a larger audience can't apply because you don't have endless resources, personnel or time when developing in-house. Thanks for this information. It's super helpful!

Nice! Thanks for great ideas and questions.

1. Building in house is expensive, slow, and painful, and most teams have better things to spend their time on. We’re helping several teams move off their in-house solution because they aren’t satisfied with it.

2. We are building out automation and scripting capabilities. We support integration with Python scripts and other local commanding destinations via our API.

3. Love the idea! We already support real-time comments that are embedded in procedures. We want to build out even more things along those lines to streamline communications.


Is the any planned integration with requirement tracking software such as DOORS? If it were possible to flow test results back into the requirement specification systems it could seriously save a lot of time and money.

Also, for commenting on procedure steps are there any additional tools available for the text formatting? We find we have to do a lot of red lining and colour coding as things progress to track deviations in a simple way for customers and PA to find.


Most certainly! We are planning to integrate with all software packages that our customers are using to enable really efficient operations for them. We have a few Next Gen DOORS customers, as well as other requirements tracking tools. I love the suggestions!

In addition, we can comment and actively redline running procedures. If you want me to show you I'd be happy to. You can email me at laura@epsilon3.io and in addition I'll make a small tutorial and link it here when complete.


Thats really cool to hear, I hate working with DOORS, so anything to automate the interaction is great!

If it is ok with you, can I pass on your information to our Business Development team, I will stay involved for sure, but they are the best positioned to see how the software could fit into our systems.


Is your name a Babylon 5 Reference?

https://babylon5.fandom.com/wiki/Epsilon_III


100%

Oh, it’s llcrabtree! We didn’t cross paths but I’ve seen your name all over Confluence. :) (I was on the training team after you left.) This is gonna be rad. Can’t wait to see where it goes.

Oh it is LLCrabtree! I'd love to connect. Send me an email laura@epsilon3.io =)

Congrats! Great to see YC supporting more software companies that are working towards finally bringing the "boring" parts of the sector into the 21st century.

If you're interested in exploring the idea of supply chain integration, I'd love to chat. We're an ESA-backed, online marketplace for the space sector [1], and we've built a few integrations already to bring tools and data together for engineers.

[1] https://satsearch.com


Woo hoo! Thank you!

Sure, would love to chat. That sounds like a great opportunity for collaboration. Can you fill out the form at https://epsilon3.io/contact and we'll follow up with you?


Sounds good!

So excited to be part of Epsilon3 and helping so many awesome companies with their testing and operations.

I hope everyone saw the recent epic Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights. Those are just the first small step in what's to be a very exciting future. Epsilon3 wants to eventually help so many more people go to space. Now that we’ve had two billionaires go up to space, maybe someone in the HN community can be next?


Really excited to be part of this team! Laura was talking yesterday about tearing up at after the Blue Origin launch, not just because it's amazing to send people to space, but because it requires the work and communication of thousands of people to take them up and bring them home safe. We're excited to build tools to enable all of the hard work that leads up to a successful launch!

yes to this! It takes a huge team to make something like that successful, and we want to continue to support those teams!

Congrulations on the launch, it sounds awesome. This is one of the companies where I would love to work. Are you taking remote candidates?

Thanks! That's nice to hear. You can see our job openings, which are remote-friendly, at https://angel.co/epsilon3/.

Excited for this launch! Our customers are doing literal rocket science and every day is an amazing opportunity for us to build the supporting technology they need to do amazing things.

Rocket science is hard, but running your operations shouldn't be! At Epsilon3 we're solving the software challenges of complex operations so you can get back to what you do best - space!


First, congrats on launching. Second, "AWS GovCloud for ITAR compliance," can the USG access my data (EU company) then?

Thanks! No, the US Government can't access your data. Only you can. GovCloud is just a special portion of AWS that has extra security controls so that US companies are confident that all their data is housed in US servers and properly treated according to ITAR regulations. It's totally fine for companies outside the US to use and doesn't give the government any access.

We also support on-premises deployments if that's preferable to companies outside the US.


I’m building up a space related non-profit (space telescopes) and I’m not in the USA.

So ITAR is a poison, it is great you have an ITAR Free option, do you have any plans to host in other AWS regions long term? And how much more is on-premises likely to cost me?


Yep, we are planning on hosting in other AWS regions as well. For pricing, let's discuss offline because it'll depend on a few things. Can you fill out the Contact form on our website (https://epsilon3.io/contact), and we can take it from there?

Awesome! Definitely will be filling it out. Just had to ask the obvious ITAR question, so I could set my expectations appropriately of course.

Im sure you’re getting the same feedback from a lot of other non-USA potential customer so it’s great to hear you already have a plan.


I don't understand yet the pain being adressed. If today it can be solved with pen and paper or Word, it looks to me that realtime sync or data visualization were not a must (disasters seem to be avoided today just as well). Nice to have, without doubt, but not a must. So your software makes it a nice experience for everybody involved, right?

Yes, it's been accomplished with paper in the past, but at great expense as many of the teams of the past were large. Take for example any control room of the 1960s, which had 40-60 people in it. Today's teams are scattered (and working from home much of the time), and much smaller (think less than 5) and must be able to accomplish the same tasks as those larger teams of the 1960s. Our software enables the teams to be smaller, more agile, and communicate better from anywhere in the world.

There's a ton of time wasted in miscommunications and lost paper records or illegible handwriting on test logs. And there have been many disasters and lives lost in the past, so anything that can be done to avoid that is worth seriously considering. Plus we make it a nicer experience and way faster.

Very true, papers are so time consuming and risky... eh. Otherwise maybe we are not thinking about the same events, so can you please detail some many disasters and lives lost? The only ones coming to mind are the space shuttles...

Excited to be using this product for ensuring clearly documented and easy to make test procedures for our propulsion testing, and eventually for our satellite operations. Keep up the good work Epsilon3 and I look forward to becoming a hardcore power user!

We're so excited to support such amazing companies such as yours!

So grateful for your kind words and honored to be supporting your team!

Laura, congratulations. Does it support acronyms? :)

Anyone interested should sign up for the changelog emails. It's only 1-2 emails a month and shows how much progress Laura and her team are making.


Lol, thanks Pat. I keep telling the team that we won't allow acronyms. That feature is 100% on the list. Currently they are allowed, however future revisions might not allow acronyms, or might force you to define them. Certainly keep your eyes peeled for this new *feature*.

I was just kidding of course, but the idea of defined acronyms is interesting. Hover over an acronym and see the expanded text.

100% on the roadmap!!!

Extremely excited for this launch! We have amazing companies doing some really cool stuff in the space sector! Cannot wait to support all the amazing missions with Epsilon3!

I had no idea this niche existed. However, no sarcasm here at all, but do people in the space industry read HN and Product Hunt at all?

Surprisingly, enough of them seem to!

Would you say your software is appropriate for aerospace manufacturing and quality management system data collection?

Looks very interesting. I surfed around your site and watched the video. So how about nonconformance processing? Do you have workflows for that, or is that where something like JIRA comes in?

Also, have you utilized anything like the S1000D aerospace data schema with this tool, or are you rolling your own?


We are planning to have some dedicated functionality to help with non-conformance, anomalies, and other related things. We also plan to integrate with JIRA for separate reasons too.

We have not implemented a standard data scheme yet, but that's a great idea. We've been letting our customers set up their own schema and structure based on their needs, but I can definitely see the value of being able to adopt an industry-standard schema, so that's a great idea.

I'd love to learn more about your use case and understand better where you're coming from on those points.


Interesting. This sounds like a good fit for CRDTs somewhat, though a centralized architecture might offer more robustness guarantees. On the other hand, it would be quite easy to display sync status as part of the UI.

That's an interesting idea. We plan to eventually support some level of decentralization and syncing while starting with the centralized approach first.

Very cool domain and background.

Thanks!

Congrats, anything related to space sounds super cool :)

They are the real deal! Awesome team and product.

Thank you!



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