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STUDIO TEAM

Here are the stellar people at the heart of everything we do

Studio Team
Dr. Leon Alkalai
CEO and Founder
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Dr. Alkalai is the founder of Mandala Space Ventures. Dr. Leon Alkalai is a recently retired Technical Fellow of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology where he spent 32 years after getting his PhD at UCLA in 1989. During his career at JPL, Dr. Alkalai held numerous leadership positions and was responsible for the capture leadership of both the GRAIL mission to the Moon (2007) and the INSIGHT lander on Mars (2012). For both efforts, Dr. Leon Alkalai received Distinguished Individual Achievement medals from NASA in 2011 and 2019 respectively. Dr. Alkalai was also heading up JPL strategic partnerships and strategic planning for the Laboratory. In early 2021, Dr. Alkalai retired from JPL and created Mandala Space Ventures, a space-focused, Pasadena-based incubator for new start-ups in the emerging space economy. Leon is also the General Partner at the Explorer-1 Venture Fund which is also affiliated with the Mandala space incubator. Recently, Mandala launched its first new venture called Continuum Space Systems, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company for the emerging digital space economy.
Michael A. Preudhomme
Director, Engineering
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At Mandala, Michael Preudhomme oversees all of the engineering studio services to portfolio companies, internal startup incubation engineering services and other matters of a technical nature. He is a seasoned Propulsion Systems Engineer who recently joined Mandala Space Ventures after serving at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for nearly a decade. At JPL, he was responsible for overseeing the design, development, and delivery of the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander engines. Michael is a versatile engineer who combines his expertise in financial forecasting and multi-physics simulations with spacecraft design and optimization. Michael obtained his MS in Materials Science & Engineering from Stanford, his MBA from the University of Miami, and his BS in Astronautical Engineering as well as a BA in Chemistry from the University of Southern California.

During his time at JPL, Michael was recognized for his exceptional work on the Europa Lander engine development and his proficiency in modeling engine plume-surface interactions on Mars. His passion for space exploration and propulsion systems engineering makes him an ideal addition to the Mandala team. When he is not diving into work, he enjoys diving in the ocean.
Dr. Chandler Clemons
Studio Consultant
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Chandler oversees Finance and Data Science at Mandala, bringing years of diverse experience. Chandler is a trained econometrician and data scientist focusing on helping founders successfully bring their ideas to market through both technical development and financial engineering. As an investor, he has worked with family offices and venture funds with a focus on emerging technologies and high growth sectors. Prior to his career in venture capital, Chandler taught Empirical Macroeconomics at Pomona College and was an economist at US Bank. Chandler earned his Ph.D. in Economics at Claremont Graduate University and his BA in Economics at the University of Washington.
Emma Way
Operations Consultant
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Emma has led the media, events, and communication efforts at The Players’ Impact, a venture capital community of current and retired professional athletes, since 2019. She received her B.A. from the University of Michigan and a M.S. from Quinnipiac University.
Dr. Sandya Narayanswami
Partnerships
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Dr. Sandya Narayanswami overseas Partnerships and Programs at Mandala. Sandya is a life scientist whose research experience includes a faculty position at The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Her most recent position was Director of Foundation Relations at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Brandon Florian
Director of Strategic Incubation
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Brandon has spent the last 18 years serving the Aerospace and Defense industry both on the corporate and startup side spanning different functions within engineering, business management, business development, strategy, and innovation. He started his career in 2004 as a Spacecraft Systems Engineering for General Dynamics at Point Mugu Naval Station, CA supporting the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC). In 2007, he joined Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems as a Business Analyst. In 2018, he joined Starburst as the US director of business development and corporate partnerships.
Severin Blenkush
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Colonel (retired) Severin Blenkush is a 27-year Air Force veteran whose career in acquisition culminated as Director of Contracting for Air Mobility Command’s $1.6B contract portfolio which spanned 11 geographically separated locations. Along the way, Severin was a three-time Commander, deployed to Iraq twice and Qatar once, and served at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark. His space experience includes three years working classified space systems at Los Angeles Air Force Base (now Space Force Base) and two years in acquisition plus two years in operations for the National Reconnaissance Office. Severin held unlimited Contracting Officer Warrants in three different Air Force Major Command. Recently appointed as Space Force Association’s New Mexico Chapter President, Severin is tasked with standing up a new organization dedicated to serving US Space Force Guardians and advocating for the Space Industry as a whole.
Louis Anastas
Marketing and Content Leader
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Louis is an experienced creative director, marketing director, and storyteller who has created and produced engaging content and campaigns for global Tech and Aerospace & Defense brands like L3Harris, Boeing, GE Healthcare, and SureFire. He was the creative & project lead for the $10M Harris Global Innovation Center. He also orchestrated key video projects for day one of the Harris / L3 merger in 2019. Louis also helped Boeing create a multimedia experience for a USAF show that led to a massive contract for the T-X test fighter. Louis has directed work in all media and genres including documentary, scripted work, and 2D & 3D animation as well as large-scale interactives, VR, AR, and immersive videos. That said, it all starts with strong storytelling.
Consultants
Thomas Randolph
Project Systems Engineer
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After completing undergraduate work at USC and graduate work at Princeton University in 1992, Tom Randolph worked at Space Systems Loral where he managed the qualification of the SPT-100 Hall thruster system leading to the first commercial flights of a Hall thruster on MBSAT. After starting work at JPL in 2003, Tom has been the Product Delivery Manager for the LISA Pathfinder colloid microthruster system, the Project System Engineer on the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator Technology Demonstration Mission, the Technical Group Supervisor of the Project Systems Engineering Group, the Project Manager for ASPIRE, and the Project Systems Engineer for the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander.
Dr. Ira Katz
Retired JPL Engineer
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Dr. Katz led NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Advanced Propulsion Technology Group and is recognized as a world leader in computer models of ion thruster physics. Accomplishments during his tenure include development and testing of the 25-kW NEXIS ion thruster, successful completion of the world’s longest electric thruster life test, development of technology and support for precision formation flying missions (ST7, Lisa, TPF-I), and laboratory investigation and computer modeling of fundamental electric propulsion physics. He led the successful effort to infuse commercial Hall effect thrusters and XIPS ion thrusters into JPL mission planning.
Dr. Dan Goebel
Chief Engineer
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Dan M. Goebel is a Fellow and Senior Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. He is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, Fellow of the IEEE, Fellow of the AIAA, Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and former Chair of the AIAA Electric Propulsion Committee and the IEEE EDS Vacuum Devices Technical Committee. He is an internationally recognized expert in electric propulsion, microwave sources, advanced plasma sources and high voltage engineering. At JPL he is the Chief Engineer of the Psyche Discovery Mission, he does research and development in ion and Hall thrusters for deep space solar electric propulsion missions, and he applies his expertise in electrostatic discharges, microwave devices, power systems and communications systems to JPL projects.
Dara Sabahi
Retired JPL Fellow
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Dara was a Systems Engineer and Chief Engineer at NASA JPL since 1989 till his retirement in early 2018. He was responsible for major subsystems on all Mars landed missions, since Mars Pathfinder. Mars Science Laboratory Rover (Curiosity Rover) Project System Engineer – Landed in 2012 and Operational. Phoenix Project Chief Engineer-Landed in 2008 and completed surface mission. Mars Exploration Rovers Project (Spirit & Opportunity) Mechanical System Architect – Landed in ‘03 and operational. Mars Pathfinder Project Mechanical System Engineer – Landed in 2007 and completed surface mission.
Dr. Peter Gage
Aeronautics Engineering Specialist
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Dr. Gage has a proven track record in vehicle design for NASA, primarily on Entry, Descent and Landing, but with recent experience on launch vehicles and mission architecture. His long involvement with NASA’s Advanced Engineering Environment can guide collaboration solutions for design teams. Peter has deep experience with CAD and its role in high-fidelity simulation.
Pez Zarifian
Systems Engineering Specialist
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Pez Zarifian was a Deputy Systems Engineer in JPL’s concurrent engineering Advanced Projects Design Team (Team X) and has developed some of the most innovative concepts for space exploration. Prior to his involvement with formulation activities, Pez was a member of the I & T team for JPL’s PMD project and was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Delivery of PMD flight hardware. Pez is currently a systems engineer at Toyota Research Institute.
Dr. Jonathan Grandidier
Photovoltaics and Solar Array Specialist
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Dr. Grandidier has been a technical group supervisor at Blue Origin for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) since 2022. Before joining Blue Origin, he was part of the Solar Array Technology and Engineering group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for 8 years and a Visiting Associate at Caltech for the Space Solar Power Project (SSPP). He specializes in solar arrays, photovoltaics, power beaming and power subsystems for space applications. He was the Power Subsystem Lead for Cassini Spacecraft until the End of Mission.
Fernando Mier Hicks
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Dr. Mier-Hicks is group lead of the Advanced Robotics Group at JPL. He has led avionics efforts on test equipment for the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity Helicopter and robots for extreme environments. Fernando functioned as a rover driver for the Curiosity rover. More recently, he architected and is a system engineer of a new Mars helicopter element as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. Prior to joining JPL, Fernando completed a PhD at MIT focusing on thrust, spacecraft charging, and attitude control characterization of electrospray thrusters using a magnetically levitated testbed.
Randy Pollock
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Randy Pollock has held key systems engineering or management roles on many key NASA environmental monitoring missions, including the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), Orbiting Carbon Observatory series (OCO, OCO-2 and OCO-3), and the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT). He also served as the chief engineer for the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument on the Mars Perseverance rover. His work has ranged across the entire lifecycle of projects including technology development, mission concept development, flight hardware and software design, fabrication, test & qualification, and flight operations.
David Skulsky
Retired JPL Engineer
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David Skulsky worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 29 years in a broad range of Guidance, Navigation, and Control and Entry, Descent, and Landing-related roles, including GN&C system engineering, EDL system engineering, simulation model development, GN&C sensor design and testing, and flight operations. He has supported both orbital and landing missions, including Mars Observer, the Cassini Mission to Saturn, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Phoenix Mars Lander, and the Insight Mars Lander. On InSight, David was the Entry, Descent, and Landing Lead and he was the Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Lead for the proposed Europa Lander mission. Prior to retiring from JPL, David was the Product Delivery Manager for the Sample Retrieval Lander GN&C subsystem. He has also held line management positions as the group supervisor of the GN&C System Engineering Group and the EDL System Engineering Group. David holds a bachelor degree in electrical engineering and masters degree in aerospace engineering.
Dr. Leslie J. Deutsch
Retired JPL Mathematician and Manager
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Dr. Deutsch began his JPL career in 1980 after receiving a PhD from Caltech. He developed new methods of deep space communications before becoming the manager of JPL’s deep space communications technology program. In 1991, He received the IEEE Judith Resnik Award for his “contributions to the theory and practice of deep space telecommunications and information processing.” He has managed many JPL technology programs and served as JPL’s Chief Technologist for a stint before going into executive management – ending up as Deputy Director of JPL’s Interplanetary Network Directorate. Along the way, Dr. Deutsch led teams to recover the Galileo and Huygens Spacecraft from communication anomalies – introducing many new technologies to these and other space missions in the process. In 2022, NASA awarded him the Distinguished Public Service Medal. Dr. Deutsch has a second career in music where he has developed many patents and holds the position of “Caltech Organist.”
Brian Wilcox
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Brian Wilcox is a retired Fellow of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a NASA center operated by Caltech. During his 38 years at JPL, he was Supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles Group for 20 years, and Manager of the Space Robotics Technology Program for 15 years. He received numerous awards, including the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement medal, the NASA Exceptional Public Service medal, and was twice awarded the JPL Award for Excellence. More recently, is a co-founder of Marine BioEnergy, Inc (marinebiomass.com) which seeks to replace fossil fuels with carbon-neutral fuels made from giant kelp grown in the open ocean. Brian is the inventor of a worldwide patent on the now-validated method of depth-cycling kelp between the surface water to absorb sunlight during the daytime and diving the kelp to the thermocline (typically 60-150 meters deep) to absorb nutrients at night. This method opens the vast areas of the open ocean to cultivation for the first time.