Luxembourg technology aboard a SpaceX flight

On May 25, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 aircraft carrier into a sun-synchronous orbit. It will carry a satellite designed by the Luxembourg company Space Products and Innovation (SPiN), which has developed an adapter designed to simplify the construction of satellites. The idea is to make launching objects into space easier and cheaper.

In any case, this is the direction of the space industry, whose players have struggled to lower prices and barriers to entry. SpaceX currently charges about $1,200 per pound (2,470 euros per kilogram) of payload to send an object into orbit. It may sound expensive, but it’s only a fraction of what NASA used to charge: $30,000 per book.

But while payload prices have dropped, the cost of building a satellite remains high. This is the problem that SPiN, a Luxembourg start-up, hopes to solve.

In 2014, the future co-founder and CEO of SPiN, Ran Qedar, was involved in building a satellite system as part of his university studies. It took him three months to design the complex algorithms needed for advanced navigation and control, namely the software. And another full year to integrate this software into the satellite.

“We discovered that there is no operating system like Windows or Linux for satellites”, he explains. “We can’t take risks. We can’t afford to have Windows crashing in space, nor the complexity of Linux with its open source parts that we don’t know everything about.

As a result, most companies have designed and are still designing these systems from scratch, a time-consuming and expensive process.

Ran Qedar, however, found a video where the US Air Force was performing software integration and a satellite in an incredibly short time of four hours, in 2008. This inspired him, but he found that years of project and sums gigantic amounts of money were used just to make this moment of connection possible.

“We wondered how to achieve the same result without spending a billion dollars and decades checking, qualifying and sending everything into space to make sure it works,” he explains. “That’s when we decided to develop an adapter.”

Ran Qedar and his colleagues moved to Luxembourg for its space sector. “We believe that Luxembourg has the highest concentration of space start-ups.”

(Photo: SPIN)

risk free software

The CEO likens the SPiN adapter to a plug converter that you can take with you on trips abroad. In terms of hardware, it has more than 25 different ports and eight interfaces. On the software side, the product communication layer “talks” to the hardware in the same way that an operating system like Windows communicates with a computer.

“But the difference,” he says, “is that we had to design software that was risk-free. We measure time in microseconds. Any delay for a satellite flying at 27,000 km/h is a big problem.”

Another priority was to make the system highly configurable, so that new protocols could be added without software updates.

SPiN made its first sale in 2018, three years after winning a startup competition in Bremen. The team participated in the Luxembourg Fit4Start program in 2021, with the aim of building a satellite using its own adapter, both as a “proof of concept” and to prove its capabilities to potential customers.

This satellite, called SPiN-1 and assembled in just four hours, will be launched by a SpaceX rocket on May 25.

Ultimately, according to Ran Qedar, the company’s goal is to allow satellites to be assembled using the necessary parts and technology or already owned “and to have that kind of concept through which satellites are built a little bit like Legos.”

He estimates that space accessibility will become more widespread for businesses in about two years.

This article was written by
in English, translated and edited by Paperjam in French.

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