Exploration company developing a new reusable orbital spacecraft – Meczyki.Net

european space The scene is about 5 to 10 years behind America, Helen Hubby explained in a recent interview. He certainly deserves to be assessed as such: Hubby spent most of his career at the major European aerospace company Airbus, where one of his roles was VP of the European Service Module (ESM). The ESM is the power and propulsion component of NASA’s Orion orbital vehicle, which the space agency intends to use to return humans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo era.

Habi left Airbus in August 2021. As she explains, “I didn’t want to spend my life working on a vehicle that isn’t reusable, that can’t be refueled.” So he decided to make one himself.

In a move that likely caused some ripples inside the aerospace company, he and two others – Artur Kopp, ESM Propulsion Subsystem Lead, and John Rijnveld, Deputy Lead Systems Engineer – departed from Airbus. Together with Sebastian Reichstadt and Pierre Vinnet, he founded The Exploration Company, which is developing a reusable, refuelable orbital vehicle. Its closest analogues are SpaceX’s Dragon capsule or Boeing’s Starliner. According to Habi, there is no close European competitor – and therein lies the opportunity for European startups to remain on the international stage.

“The [space] The exploration ecosystem is probably going to change dramatically in the next 10 to 15 years,” she said. “If you do that, you have a huge advantage of being one of the first to market.”

A different model for Europe

The exploration company has raised approximately €11.5 million ($11.6 million), including a €5.3 million ($5.3 million) seed round. Led by Promus Ventures, with participation from Vsquared and Cherry Ventures. Its workforce has grown to about thirty people.

The startup is moving fast — it plans to fly a demonstrator on an Ariane 6 rocket in October — and the pace is by design. While Hubby insists she’s learned everything she knows at Airbus, she’s become almost a meme in the startup world now: her willingness to move fast and take risks in a corporate environment that doesn’t allow her to take the risk. Can’t welcome any of the things. ,

“It was logical, given the nature of my project,” she said. “Staying at Airbus would not have been the right choice because it didn’t have the right set-up to grow properly.”

While such a trend may be common in the United States, Hubie said The Exploration Company is unique in that nearly everyone in management spent the bulk of their careers in large corporations. “What you usually see in Europe are people [that] Just graduated building a company,” she explained. “I think we’re the first where most of the co-founders are coming from the corporation.”

Bikini, then Nyx

The exploration company will launch a reentry demonstration ‘bikini’ of its orbital vehicle this year – followed by the first functional prototype in 2024. The 2024 mission is about 80% pre-booked with customer payloads, Hubi said. Booking is both a Letter of Intent or a Memorandum of Understanding, so neither customer has paid the deposit yet and the agreements are not binding. Habi said the company is in talks with some customers to move some of these agreements into signed contracts, with a down payment by October.

In 2026, the company intends to launch the first flight of its proper orbital vehicle, named Nyx after the Greek goddess of the night. Like the Orion spacecraft, Nyx will be composed of two components: the service module and the capsule. It will be capable of carrying up to 4,000 kg into low-Earth orbit for a maximum mission of six months. The capsule would be reusable, and depending on the mission the service module could also be reusable. The idea, Habi said, is to eventually be able to refill the service module with space resources (often referred to as “space resource utilization”) using propellant made in space.

The exploration company is casting its net widely, so the Nyx is designed to be launcher agnostic. This October, the bikini demonstrator will take off from French Guiana aboard an Ariane 6 rocket, while the first full-scale prototype will fly with SpaceX.

Hubby pointed to Gateway, NASA’s plan to build an orbiting station around the Moon, as a possible use case. Nyx can provide last mile delivery to the lunar surface, refuel to the Moon, and back to the Gateway. She also mentioned the myriad private space station plans that have cropped up from orbital reef to Stargate, which would require spacecraft capable of carrying objects and people to and from Earth.

Notably, the company was one of ten startups selected to be part of the Amazon Web Services 2022 AWS Space Accelerator, and has referred to Orbital Reef as a partner. Orbital Reef is a private space station being developed by Blue Origin of Sierra Space and Jeff Bezos.

Nyx rendering. Source, exploration company.

“I clearly see the need for more competition to fundamentally strengthen the business model of these private stations,” Hubi said. “I think the best part of what we are doing is that on the one hand we give Europe free access to be a much larger area of ​​new activity. On the other hand, we provide more competition to America, Which makes the business planning of these public-private space stations more credible, which is in the very strong interest of NASA.

At long last, The Exploration Company also wants to develop a human-rated version of Nyx, just like a cargo and crew SpaceX Dragon capsule. The company plans to open a US subsidiary next year to reap the benefits of the relationship with NASA.

“We haven’t built this kind of collaboration with NASA yet and I’ve already seen that they’ll be open to it,” Hubby said.