The Exploration Company submits ambitious flight plan and boards Ariane 6

It is one of the best NewSpace startups in the entire country. I’m not the one who says it, but specialists in the sector! », assures François Baffou, General Manager of Bordeaux Technowest who accompanies The Exploration Company in Mérignac (Bordeaux Métropole). Created just 18 months ago, the young company, which has 50 employees divided equally between France and Germany, has already achieved the feat of being selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to participate in the inaugural flight of the Ariane 6. The Exploration Company’s first qualified demonstrator: the Bikini capsule.

First flight of Ariane 6 in 2023: notice by Philippe Baptiste (CNES)

More and more seasons

The Exploration Company aims to democratize space exploration. It is developing modular, autonomous and reusable spacecraft that will carry out logistical missions to space stations around Earth and the Moon, and to the surface of the Moon: Nyx ​​Earth and Nyx Moon.

“We are a space logistics company,” insists Hélène Huby, co-founder and director of the company.

The first mission of these ships, which will transport goods and then humans, will be to dock more and more space stations. ” There are two around the earth: the ISS and the Chinese station. But there will be four, five or six more in the coming years. We are on a 400% growth in space stations this decade “, explains Hélène Huby. These spacecraft will initially send everything necessary for the astronauts’ experiments, but also food and spare parts. The Exploration Company will have as clients both public agencies and private stations.

The Moon in 2028

According to the tentative schedule, after qualification of the Bikini capsule, the startup is currently developing its second larger demonstrator, Mission Possible, which will be launched by Space X in late 2024 with customers. “100% is pre-booked. There will be on board 300 kilos of cargo from the Cnes (National Center for Space Studies), the German Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA)”announces Hélène Huby.

“Sending the first demonstrator on the Ariane 6 flight is not necessary from a technical point of view, but it will allow us to acquire incoming and outgoing atmospheric data. We will also collect data from the prototype of our first internal on-board computer. It will be our first time in space, so it will be an important step.”witnesses Hélène Huby.

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The flight of the last vehicle to Earth (Nyx Earth) is announced for 2026. It will be necessary to wait until 2028 for the Moon (Nyx Moon). Before these first steps into orbit, many tests will be carried out on Earth to validate the technologies.

In detail, the company is developing two systems green liquid propulsion. It is also in Mérignac that the propulsion team is based, where the engine factory will also be located. It’s also working on snap-on technology that allows it to dock with pods. ” This is something we haven’t mastered in Europe “says Hélène Huby. Finally, it is developing the technology for re-entry into the atmosphere, working on thermal protection, so that it is reusable, and on the flight software to control the vehicle.

The Exploration Company’s strengths?

“We will be the first company in the world to use green propellants for this type of vehicle. Our engine, which will integrate electricity and electronics, can be tuned in flight. Engine integration will be quick. Finally, targeting 25,000 euros per kilo released. Our starting price is 25% of the not-so-great competition today. Only SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is reusable”, highlights the founder, even though she is not alone at the start.

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From a financial point of view, the company has raised seven million euros in the past. But given the significant resources needed for this sector of activity, another, much larger fundraising is underway. Hiring is already scheduled. Although The Exploration Company had 25 people in charge at the end of 2022 in the French part alone, it targets almost 50 employees this year in France, 50 in 2024 and 92 in 2025. Among the active forces recruited so far, many come from the ArianeGroup, which has several sites in Gironde.