French startup Exotrail raises $13 million for propulsion, space software and on-orbit transport systems

Space

GLASSBORO, N.J. — Exotrail, a French startup that builds electric propulsion systems and designs flight software for smallsats, has raised 11 million euros ($13 million) from investors, the company announced July 16. 

French venture capital firms Karista and Innovacom led the Series A round, with participation from IXO Private Equity, NCI-Waterstart and Turenne Capital, plus previous investors 360 Capital, Irdi Soridec Gestion and Bpifrance. 

Massy and Toulouse, France-based Exotrail has raised 17 million euros since forming in 2017. The company plans to use its new funding to further product development, increase manufacturing capabilities, and hire business development staff in Europe and in North America, David Henri, Exotrail chief executive, said in an interview. 

Exotrail plans to expand its manufacturing capacity from roughly 10 propulsion systems a year today to around 100 annually by 2022 or 2023, and increase its headcount to 50 people, up from 27, he said. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Exotrail couldn’t meet with investors face-to-face, but Henri said the Series A was not difficult to close because the company already had existing relationships with most of the investors that participated. Exotrail also began generating revenue this year, a milestone he said helped convince investors to fund the company. 

Exotrail has a demonstration propulsion system on a NanoAvionics cubesat awaiting launch on an Indian PSLV mission that has been delayed from November 2019. The pandemic has clouded the timeline for that launch, he said.  

“It will be hard to do this before the end of fall,” Henri said. “If it flies in September, we are fairly lucky, I would say.”

Exotrail has propulsion systems on other smallsats, he said, including one launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 late this year for an undisclosed customer and two launching next year on cubesats Clyde Space is building for Eutelsat. 

Over the next 12 months, Exotrail plans to work on clustering propulsion systems together to support larger smallsats and microsats, he said. The company’s current focus is satellites from 10 to 250 kilograms. 

Henri said Exotrail also aims to release a software program for spacecraft operations, building on the March release of its ExoOPS mission design software program. 

By 2024, Exotrail hopes to launch its first in-space transportation system, dubbed Space Van, that would provide last-mile services for 10 or more nanosatellites, bringing customers to their desired orbits after launcher separation, he said. The French space agency CNES awarded Exotrail a 100,000-euro contract earlier this year to help fund the design phase for Space Van, he said. 

Henri said Space Van is a “long term vision,” and that Exotrail isn’t worried about following after companies like Momentus and D-Orbit that are designing vehicles for similar services on shorter timescales. 

“We are not sure that the market is right now mature enough for this, so that’s why we are not too concerned about time to market,” he said. 

Exotrail hopes to evolve Space Van into a satellite servicer in 2025 for life extension and in-space assembly, he said. The company would rely on partners for robotics and other elements of the servicer that fall outside Exotrail’s primary areas of expertise, he said. 

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