To Boldly Go: the Business of Space

Aerospace engineer Christopher Luwanga, Class of 2017, is an expert in space satellites and is challenging the conventional wisdom that space technology is only for the rich and powerful.

NYUAD: What role do you think private companies have in the space sector?

Luwanga: Humanity is moving toward using space as an extension of Earth. Space is still very expensive for reasons that have more to do with history than the actual cost of making products and components. Governments have been in control of the industry for the longest time so there haven’t been incentives to reduce the cost of satellites. It costs billions because the buyers have financial power. It doesn’t make sense. I know we can make things cheaper.

Private companies can be significant players in the industry and that will require changing how and where we build satellites.

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Home Country: Malawi
Current: Founder, Galamad Aerospace

NYUAD: What are you doing for the commercialization of space?

I’m setting up a small-sat company to design and build a novel satellite platform called PROSat. The work is just getting started. We’ve already raised USD 1 million in pre-seed funding.

Galamad Aerospace will design the satellites in Singapore and assemble them in Malawi. The potential economic value for Malawi is enormous. All the investment in my company will go right back into employment and the economy.

NYUAD: Where do you think the business of space is going?

There’s still a lot that needs to happen for space to be truly commercialized. It’s a young industry. I’m competing against some big players with deep pockets. Still, I believe we’re doing something really different.

NYUAD: How did you find your PhD aerospace program after NYUAD?

Actually, someone came to NYU Abu Dhabi to talk about master’s and PhD programs. I connected with that person who later recommended me to a conference. I met my future PhD supervisor in Singapore at that conference. So in a way, NYU Abu Dhabi helped with my PhD placement.

NYUAD: What’s an unexpected lesson you took away from NYUAD?

J-Term in London was a highlight. I took a class called “Portraits.” It seemed so out of my field as an engineer but it helped me think about how to express myself, how to interpret the world. These things matter now with the direction I’m going in business. There are a lot of subtle things you need to be able to understand about people. It helped me think about what I can do with what I've learned.