Nanosat startup

Open Cosmos, a UK space start-up formed just 18 months ago through UK company builder and early-stage investor Entrepreneur First, has developed a unique mission service allowing public and private customers to get their technology into space quickly and cost effectively. Its modular nanosatellite platform, called qbee, gives customers flexibility to launch payloads up to 20kg at a fraction of the cost and time of conventional options. The company this month became the first Space Mission Provider through European Space Agency’s (ESA) Pioneer partner programme, which aims to minimise the current space access barriers.

Conventional nanosatellite missions usually cost £2-5 million and take 2-4 years, and companies looking to prove that their new technologies and services work in space are obliged to search for opportunities in the market, which can cause delays. Open Cosmos offer a unique end-to-end solution, taking care of mission simulation, spacecraft design, integration, testing, launch procurement, frequency allocation, insurance and operations for customers. By owning all the technology, standardising interfaces and employing off-the-shelf technology, it is able to simplify the mission, removing handcrafted and costly elements. Economies of scale mean that by launching many satellites at a time, Open Cosmos is able to significantly reduce the cost to customers. This in turn unlocks new data more readily, whether for monitoring Earth’s atmosphere, policing our oceans, assessing our infrastructure, or connecting people with new telecommunications services.

Open Cosmos delivers an all-in cost from £500k for a three-unit nanosatellite mission, and a timescale from kick-off to launch in under a year; up to a tenth of the cost and in a quarter of the time of any other space service. This approach opens space up to non-experts and organisations for whom it was previously prohibitively expensive, and allows them to focus on the application and data of their technology, rather than the logistics of getting it into orbit.

In addition to time and cost savings, Open Cosmos’ service simplifies and streamlines the process for customers. First, it guides customers through payload development and testing, using qbkit, a mock-up of the satellite, and payload development software tools. When the payload is ready and validated, Open Cosmos books the launch, integrates the payload into the satellite platform and performs functional and environmental tests. It then works with leading launch providers to secure a launch, and provides insurance and launch management. Once launched, Open Cosmos provides ground segment services, allowing customers access to their data and control of their payload 24/7 comfortably from their own devices via end to end encrypted cloud service.

The brainchild of CEO and founder, Rafel Jordà Siquier, Open Cosmos was formed with support from Entrepreneur First, the London-based company builder and early-stage investor, which assists the most ambitious international technologists to build and scale their own companies. Siquier received funding, support and access to investors, without which the company’s rapid growth and success would not have been possible. Siquier even recruited his initial team from the Entrepreneur First network.

Zoe Jervier, Head of Talent at Entrepreneur First, said: “At Entrepreneur First, we select the world’s top technical individuals at any stage of their career, meaning it’s not necessary for them to come to us with a solid, or any, idea for their start-up. The only requirement is for the individuals to be motivated by applying new technology and solving difficult problems. Rafel’s case was slightly rare in the way that he was both a great candidate for the programme, but also had a start-up idea that he was set on developing with the support of Entrepreneur First. The combination of our programme and Rafel’s hard work and dedication has enabled him and his team to build his idea into a great success in under two years.”

Just 18 months after it was founded, the company launched its first nanosatellite from the International Space Station, in March 2017. This carried a scientific payload financed by the European Commission to measure oxygen particles in low Earth orbit to better understand the atmosphere and predict the decay of satellites, helping to minimise space debris in the future. The project went from design to delivery in just four months.

Siquier said: “We are entering a new age of space, heralded by the miniaturisation and commercialisation of electronics. Formerly, testing in orbit meant bespoke, bulky and costly satellite platforms. That’s no longer the case and the UK is leading the way in unlocking space for the masses. We’re excited to be part of this wider drive and, by employing the economies of scale and by harnessing technological development, we are able to offer our customers this access to orbit for a fraction of the price previously possible. Our hope is that, by lowering the barriers to entry, qbee will accelerate the advancement of new space technologies, and even help to create new business propositions based on space data. As we launch more and more satellites, we will be able to reduce the cost even more, further democratising the final frontier”.

This month, Open Cosmos won a contract to become the first Space Mission Provider (SMP) on ESA’s Pioneer partner programme. An SMP offers public and private customers a one-stop-shop service that covers all aspects of an in-orbit demonstration campaign. Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, commented: “ESA’s Pioneer programme will support the development of the infrastructure and service that secures the future commercialisation of new technologies through in-orbit demonstration.”

The company is already working on future missions with users in the telecommunications, mining and Internet of Things sectors. The platform, however, can be used for a vast array of payloads, from infrastructure monitoring, communications in remote areas, better control of piracy and precision farming, and by organisations ranging from SMEs and research institutions to space agencies in developing countries.

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