Exolaunch soon plans to test a new separation system that will gently push microsatellites into space. The German launch provider (formerly known as ECM-Space) says the separation system, called CarboNIX, is “shock free” — meaning that no pyrotechnics are involved, and instead there will be a simple spring and locking mechanism.
“It’s important because the pyrotechnic shock separation system is the highest shock a satellite will receive during launch,” said Connor Jonas, a program manager with Exolaunch.
And in a market crowded with new entrants, it’s Exolaunch’s hope that their next Soyuz launch tomorrow (June 5) from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia will further their differentiation in the launch services industry. A gentle release for microsatellites and even their larger counterparts, CubeSats, would provide potentially thousands of universities, non-profits and small companies to send delicate electronics into space.
Smaller satellites are cheaper to launch because they don’t have as much mass; in rockets, mass means more to lift, which in turn means more fuel. But rockets are scenes of controlled violence and it’s difficult for some of the smaller satellites to function as ride-alongs with bigger payloads. So that’s where Exolaunch hopes to be different — to have the ability to send even the most sensitive payloads into space.
Exolaunch began about 10 years ago, originally as a spinoff of the Technical University of Berlin. Its original focus was launch campaign managements, and it sent aloft its first clutch of satellites in 2013 — mainly from Germany, the company says. “We saw a gap in the market for easy access to space for all these universities that were building CubeSats,” Jonas said. “That’s how the company got started, and it’s more or less entirely revenue-funded and growing quite quickly.”
Like many startups, the company does not disclose exact revenue figures, but there are a couple of things to notice. First, Exolaunch is open to accelerating its plans through venture funding — and also, it has been seeing a growth in employees and consultants around each launch, which implies a growth in revenues as well. Each campaign now has about 30 people supporting it, up from 23 or 24 people a year ago.
“I think now we’ve reached the point in development of the company where we are interested in investors, if we can find a partner,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch’s commercial director for launch services.
The rideshare is diverse, including 28 commercial and educational satellites from nearly a dozen countries. The satellites range in size from a 16-unit CubeSat down to a quarter-unit, and include companies such as Momentus (in-space transportation), Spire Global (space to cloud analytics) and NSLComm (satellite communications).
Exolaunch hopes to continue development of its satellite deployers (which can also be used for larger satellites, the company says) and to attract more customers into the fold in the coming months. In the meantime, the launch is scheduled for 1:41 a.m. EDT tomorrow (July 5), and mission managers are keeping their fingers crossed it flies as the rocket has encountered several delays since December.