The Exploration Company wants to divide the price of space logistics by 4

On the right, Hélène Huby, co-founder and CEO of The Exploration Company, presents the Bikini prototype to Alain Rousset – photo AL

One foot in Mérignac, the other in Germany, since its creation in 2021, The Exploration Company already brings together 50 people, who are working on the design of a reusable capsule intended for space logistics, first in Earth orbit, then around from the moon. His promise? Space freight made in Europe, accessible at only 25% of the cost of current transport. Its first prototype will take place on board the maiden flight of Ariane 6.

Will a very young Franco-German start-up succeed in “disrupting” the space logistics market? Created in June 2021 between Mérignac and Munich by a group of former employees of ArianeGroup, CNES and Safran, The Exploration Company is actively working on this, with the ambition of offering a space vehicle, intended primarily for the supply logistics of space stations in low orbit. ” In a few years, we will go from two to seven or eight space stations. Our ambition is to serve this world of life infrastructures around the Earth, then around the Moon, knowing that Europe today has no means of access of its own. It therefore seemed essential to us to build it “explains Hélène Huby, co-founder and CEO of The Exploration Company.

Divide by 4 the cost of space logistics

Baptized Nyx, this vehicle is intended to be both reusable – therefore capable of returning to Earth, agnostic vis-à-vis the launcher used (Ariane, Falcon, Soyuz or Chinese or Indian launchers, etc.), and modular, i.e. say capable of adopting several different configurations according to the needs of the mission. The Exploration Company aims to launch the first version, Nyx Earth, destined for Earth orbit in 2026, before aiming for the Moon two years later. Powered by liquid propellants – the same type as those of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Nyx must also be able to be fueled in orbit, or even on the surface of the Moon, to extend the duration of its missions, and meet logistical needs. Proximity. ” A launcher like SpaceX is the container ship. We design the delivery truck sums up Hélène Huby. Food supplies, delivery of scientific equipment, spare parts… The Exploration Company promises a delivery cost reduced by a factor of 4 compared to current space logistics solutions. ” We are aiming for 25,000 euros per kilo, against 100,000 euros today to deliver the ISS “, indicates the co-founder, who targets both the clientele of space agencies and those of new private players in New Space.

Technological bricks developed in New Aquitaine

For well-born startups, value does not wait for the number of years. ” Most of us have worked on Orion “recalls Hélène Huby. If it is piloted by NASA, the exploration vessel responsible for preparing for the return of man to the Moon has indeed benefited from an important European contribution. ” We have already designed, qualified and flown a vehicle capable of going beyond the Moon and back “. The development of Nyx nevertheless presupposes the development of several large innovative technological bricks, starting with the capsule’s engine, designed by teams based in New Aquitaine, and the first European representative of its kind to operate using pumps. electrical. ” We have already worked on the design, tested the injectors and electric pumps, 2023 will be devoted to the combustion chamber “, describes Hélène Huby, who is already planning the construction of a dedicated factory and a test bench in the region. ” The proximity between design, production and testing allows for a very fast iterative cycle “.

The Exploration Company is also working on the design of a docking system for space stations, supported by the European Space Agency, which has already ordered a demonstrator. Among other challenges, the startup must also develop all the components necessary for the return to Earth of its capsule, from thermal protection to dedicated electronic systems. To do this, it has already developed a miniature prototype, called Bikini, which is one of the 11 projects selected for the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 launcher, alongside another Girondin project, SpaceCase. Developed in nine months, for half a million euros, this ” ballistic demonstrator » (see video) is intended to test certain systems in real conditions, and above all « derisk » the operation as much as possible before the second test mission. Dubbed Mission Possible and scheduled for 2024, it will consist of sending a scaled-down Nyx capsule, still 2.5 meters in diameter, and already capable of carrying 300 kg of payload. ” This second flight is already 100% booked by the European Space Agency, the German agency and CNES “, rejoices Hélène Huby.

Grown in less than two years from a team of co-founders to 50 employees, evenly distributed between Gironde and Bavaria – where the final assembly will be carried out, The Exploration Company plans to double its workforce in 2023, before probably doubling it in 2025. Launched on equity, the startup has already raised seed funds of 5.3 million euros in 2021 and is currently working on its series A. Hosted in the premises of Bordeaux Technowest, on the edge of the slopes of airport, The Exploration Company should follow the science park into its new building, the Cockpit, when it is delivered in September.

The Exploration Company
Founded in 2021
50 employees
AC: na
25 rue Marcel Issartier, 33700 Merignac

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