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Satellite Grappler Snags Top Space Business Prize
Illustration of the Sticky Boom retrieving a space shuttle-sized payload (Centaur + MPLM).
Credit: Altius Space Machines

A company developing a new tool that is able to grab and grapple satellites in orbit has won first prize in a space business competition.

Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 grand prize in the NewSpace 2011 Business Plan Competition, which was held over the weekend at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The contest aims to help startup space firms come up with potentially game-changing technologies.

Altius won for its nascent "Sticky Boom" technology, which uses electroadhesion to grab onto pretty much any surface. The company says the Sticky Boom could snag satellites at a distance and reel them in, making docking and rendezvous operations easier.

Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 first-place prize at the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan Competition. President and CEO Jonathan Goff stands with the prize check.
Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 first-place prize at the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan Competition. President and CEO Jonathan Goff stands with the prize check.
Credit: Altius Space Machines

Once developed, the Sticky Boom could be put to work reeling payloads onto the International Space Station, Altius officials said. It could also aid in satellite servicing and the removal of orbital debris. [Worst Space Debris Events of All Time]

Twenty-five companies entered the competition, which was sponsored by NASA and the Heinlein Prize Trust. Five finalists presented their plans at Ames Friday (July 29) during the NewSpace 2011 conference, and three winners were announced Saturday night.

Altius Space Machine's second prototype of the Sticky Boom device that was demonstrated at the 2011 NewSpace Conference
Altius Space Machine's second prototype of the Sticky Boom device that was demonstrated at the 2011 NewSpace Conference
Credit: Altius Space Machines

The $5,000 second prize went to Celestial Circuits, which is developing a line of standardized, low-cost flight computers. Final Frontier Design, which builds and tests spacesuits, won the $2,500 third prize.

The other two finalists were New Space Publishing, which wants to put out a print magazine devoted to commercial spaceflight, and Solar Flare. Solar Flare, founded by Michigan high schoolers Shannon and Mikayla Diesch, pitched the Brainstorm Bar, which is supposed to boost brain health. It flew into space earlier this year on the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 flight.

While Altius walked away with the top prize, all of the finalists had good ideas, according to Tom Olson, the competition's project manager.

"They all nailed it," Olson, managing partner at Exodus Consulting Group in New York City, told SPACE.com after the finalists' presentations Friday. "I think all of them have a shot of going somewhere and doing something."

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.