Connecting the Space DOTS

The traditional method of testing materials for space applications is extremely expensive and time-consuming, often requiring several years and incurring expenses amounting to millions of pounds to bring those technologies to the market.

Space DOTS is on a mission to make this a thing of the past. The startup plans to make on-orbit qualification of advanced materials and small components faster, cheaper, and simpler. Its platform tests products in harsh and hard-to-reach environments, at a cost that fits the customers' qualification budget, and in a timeframe that won’t leave the technology that is being tested outdated.

In Biance Cefalo, CEO and Co-Founder of Space DOTS’s own words, Space DOTS is “trying to redefine the way materials are qualified for space applications.

“In terms of hardware, what we’re doing is a smartphone-sized test lab that is the first one actively testing material properties of advanced materials in orbit.”

Space DOTS and the team

Bianca Cefalo is the CEO and Co-Founder of Space DOTS, alongside Co- Founder and CTO, James Sheppard Alden.

Cefalo studied at the University of Naples Federico II, beginning her studies with a BSc in Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering, and then going on to complete a Master’s in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, where she specialised in hypersonic aerodynamics, microgravity, and satellite imagery.

“Then I moved straight into working on the NASA JPL Insight Mars mission. I was one of the youngest analysts there,” Cefalo mentioned.

After this, she moved to Berlin to work with a company that used to have contracts from NASA European Space Station agency at the German Space Centre. She added, “I learned everything I know about thermal engineering there.”

Next on her career journey was Airbus Defence, where she worked as a Space Systems Thermal Product Manager, which is how she met Co-Founder James. From this, she moved into working as a Sales Executive at a startup which produced advanced materials for space applications. Then in 2021, the idea for Space DOTS was born, and launched the following year.

Since closing its pre-seed round mid-2023, Space DOTS has grown to a team of nine. Before this, the team was only just the pair of co-founders since its inception.

What was the inspiration?

When working at Airbus Defence and Space as a Space Systems Thermal Product Manager, one of Cefalo’s main roles was looking for new materials and potential new ways of dissipating or insulating and controlling heat in a spacecraft. The best way to do so without having to change the geometry and architecture of the spacecraft is to work with different advanced materials to make it lighter, or merge different structures, or different ways of conducting heat, in conjunction with making it structurally viable.

The cogs began to turn. Cefalo stated: “I was working on this development of multiple advanced materials, especially on 2D metamaterials, and different advanced adhesives and coatings. James was working on the same advanced materials from a structural perspective because he is a mechanical engineer, and he was working mainly on 3D-printed polymers and novel ways of manufacturing 3D-printed polymers.

“We realised that anytime we were doing something on-ground, we were doing the entire simulation on grounds and software, and then simulating in chambers on-ground.

“Still there was a limit because we were talking to customers, and they would say, ‘Well, you've done all this characterisation on grounds, but it never flows. So, I don’t trust that it's going to work in space.’ So, there was always this ‘valley of death’ for advanced materials, which was not only wasting loads of money and resources to be characterised on grounds but were also never used and the innovation that was promised was never delivered.

“We thought that if you’re using something in space it must be proven in exactly the environment it's used, and not just simulated and grounded. So, we said ‘why don’t we do direct orbital qualification?”

At this point, Cefalo and Sheppard Alden teamed up to create what eventually turned into Space DOTS.

The challenges

As with any startup, a lack of funds can be one of the biggest and hardest challenges. “The financial struggle is always real for founders,” Cefalo commented.

The incorporation was happening in 2021, but this was more of a behind- the-scenes motion for the startup. The pair began the Space DOTS journey by bootstrapping, rather than committing to getting funding right off the bat. In July 2023, the startup closed its pre-seed funding round, totalling £1.2 million. The company had come to a point that going out and fundraising was crucial for the longevity of the business.

“We had to go into development. I had another full-time job in the States, and my Co-Founder decided to leave his other job to run as much as he needed to. Having him on a salary, plus me working full-time and fundraising at the same time and trying to get a strategy for Space DOTS’ next vision and going through iterations, it was really a massive strain, emotionally and mentally. I don’t think I could have done that for much longer, by just bootstrapping.

“The financial struggle was real. Which obviously had a massive effect on us. I couldn't leave my job until we actually had the money in the bank from our investors because obviously, I had no other means of living. So, if I lost the job, I would never have been able to pay my bills. That was a bit of a struggle. It had a ripple effect on our mental health and physical health for a certain while. That's why we're kind of still recovering from what happened.”

It's a story as old as time. The money in the bank, or lack thereof, for founders can cause a ripple effect that impacts not only the business, but also the general wellbeing of those involved in the business. It’s times like this that the resilience of founders is tested.


“I think the best part of this is having your own vision and mission, and actually seeing it happen,” Cefalo beamed. “Every day we wake up and it's difficult, there is a new challenge, or a new mistake, or something else that is completely out of our control. I wake up every morning with a clear purpose and act on it.

“What we always say, myself and James, is we haven't chosen a job, we have chosen a lifestyle. I love what I do so much and the people I do it with. They're all amazing. All of them have such unique individuality and perspectives and it's just such a blessing to work with them every day.”

While there may be a couple of challenges throughout the startup journey, the highlights greatly outweigh them. Cefalo’s love for the business and what she does comes across in everything she does, and the awards and recognition is the cherry on the cake when you love what you do on a daily basis.

Reaching for the stars

Space DOTS has a lot of momentum behind it, and Cefalo referred to 2024 as “a make-or-break year.”

This year is the year that the startup plans to launch its first product, the Barnacle DOT. Before the launch, the startup must ensure that what it’s creating is going to work from ground to space, and that is on top of the priority list.

The Barnacle DOT is a mobile phone-sized testing module designed to operate in orbit. This product enables active in-situ environmental testing of advanced materials and small components. By enabling tests to be conducted in the actual environment where the materials are expected to operate, the Barnacle DOT promises to make the testing process faster, cheaper, and more effective.

Space DOTS’s goal is “to become the trusted partner of every company, whether that’s a space company or a material and component company that has never worked in the space industry but wants to be part of the space industry.”

With the technology that Space DOTS is developing, this mission will surely lift off soon!