Dr. Lim Jian Wei Mark is the CEO of Aliena, a Singapore space-tech startup that develops advanced plasma-based propulsion engines to provide mobility solutions for satellites.
“What intrigued me during the pursuit of my education was the fascination with how we could deploy plasma sources to address the challenges of this generation and the generations to follow,” said Mark.
The company Aliena was spun-off from Nanyang Technological University in 2018 while Mark was a research scientist at the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N). He worked on a project placed in charge of developing the system hardware of a plasma propulsion system to be deployed on a nanosatellite. This was the origin of his journey of entrepreneurship.
As part of his work with Aliena, Mark and his team developed a novel miniaturized plasma thruster for nanosatellites with a unique design (a novel ion engine) that allowed operations at < 5 W power. This was record-breaking in terms of power consumption. The design also extended the lifetime of the system and addresses issues of erosion. Physical concepts behind this invention were tested and proven at NTU’s Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) in 2019 and this product is to be tested in space for an in-orbit demonstration in 2022.
Mark realized the business opportunities coming out of the potentials of this research. He explained his motivations as “the intention to address a market need” and “to design commercially viable products that could meet the operational demands of small satellite operators." Simply put, he wanted to develop more cost-effective satellite operational platforms.
Doing so will increase the feasibility of space missions and, in turn, promote the establishment of a space technology ecosystem that depends on the adoption and uptake of such applications to flourish. Most importantly, such missions will have an impact on critical global issues such as climate change, weather monitoring, and disaster response – powered by the flexible satellite networks in space.
According to Mark, Aliena raised an oversubscribed seed investment round in 2019. Its engineering team and product line are expanding quickly to accommodate the increasing demand from satellite companies.
“Aliena aims to launch a constellation of ultra-low Earth orbit high-resolution imaging microsatellites (enabled by their core proprietary engines) that would be cost-effective, sustainable, and provide high-value datasets and associated geospatial insights,” said Mark.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, he is an adjunct research scientist with ERI@N overseeing the deployment of emerging energy generation systems such as advanced geothermal systems and nuclear fusion. In order to evaluate Singapore’s geothermal potential, he helped in the co-ordination of a Seismic Survey which saw the deployment of 70+ seismic sensors across the country. Those sensors helped to image the deep underground structures and resources in Singapore.
The disruptive development of plasma fusion is another area that Mark pays close attention to. When the technology matures, he wants to ensure that Singapore has the trained manpower and plans for the deployment of such systems locally.
Mark spent 10 years in civil service with the Ministry of Education. This experience transformed him as an educator at heart until today. He is currently a council member of the Institute of Physics Singapore as well as an executive committee member of various societies, advocating for STEM education for the youth. He also pledges his time and network to mentor high school students and assist school leaders to provide opportunities for students beyond the academic domain.