SVC Startup Showcase: Zandef Deksit Inc.
Written by Esther Trevino
Musician and sound engineer Jason Achilles Mezilis founded Los Angeles-based startup Zandef Deksit Inc. in 2016 as an independent consulting firm for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The company started by working with JPL and DPA Microphones Inc., becoming the first to record sounds on Mars using the Perseverance rover.
By 2018 Mezilis had seen a need for a new space capability, but needed insight on how to develop and propose it. He contacted Dr. Melissa Rowe at The RAND Corporation, who put him in touch with her partners at the Space Ventures Coalition (SVC). This group was founded by three Federally Funded Research & Development Centers (FFRDC’s), The Rand Corporation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and The Aerospace Corporation. Members and supporters also include numerous university, startup and commercial partners primarily in southern California and the southwest. Mezilis met with the SVC’s Andre Doumitt and Tom Heinsheimer of the Aerospace Corporation, who served as a sounding board for his mission concept and shared insights about the industry, key players and funding options for startups. This early-stage series of exchanges helped set the stage for what eventually became Zandef Deksit’s ExoCam product.
Lunar ExoCam is a camera suite that includes a particle sensor designed to be ejected from a descending vehicle prior to touchdown. From the surface, Exocam then captures a 360-degree view video of a rocket landing on the moon. Direct particle measurement of the ‘sand blasting’ of regolith dispersion during final descent is a key capability, and important factor in modeling future placement of surface structures. Lunar ExoCam will also provide dramatic visuals for public outreach and STEAM academic education by offering an enhanced understanding of the context for space missions and systems.
To support Exocam development, Zandef Deksit established partnerships with Honeybee Robotics, Masten Space Systems, Ecliptic Enterprises Corp., and Arizona State University (ASU) Space Technology and Science Initiative. The vision and technical expertise won them a grant from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program in October of 2020.
By mid 2021, the team was on course for their flight test, leveraging the Masten Xodiac flight test platform. Xodiac takes off and lands vertically, is fully reusable, and can fly multiple times per day supported by a small team. Honeybee Robotics played a key role in developing hardware and the interface, and ASU completed their sensor for characterizing the regolith plume. Will Hovik, Lead Engineer for Honeybee Robotics, commented that “Honeybee has been working with Zandef Deksit on the development of this project and is eager to continue the progress and take hardware to the moon!”
On October 14th, 2021, the inaugural flight took place at Masten Space Systems with two ExoCams mounted on their Xodiac lander. Jared Byron, Operations and Project Manager for Masten Space Systems, noted that “Masten was excited to be a key part of the ExoCam first-of-its-kind tech demonstration. No one has conducted a hardware deployment from a vertical takeoff, vertical landing, rocket-powered vehicle and this joint team was able to successfully achieve all test objectives the first time. Both the vehicle and payload performed perfectly, resulting in some amazing and unique video. We are looking forward to supporting the ExoCam team that will go to the moon.”
Future plans call for an expanded ExoCam capability that will serve various instrument suites and collect in-situ data to serve space and Earth-based missions.
The partnership of Zandef Deksit, Masten, Honeybee, ASU and NASA has shown that the sky is no longer the limit for startup founders who have vision and can work together to deliver, no matter your background or circumstances.
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