Right, Hélène Huby, co-founder and CEO of The Exploration Company, presents the Bikini prototype to Alain Rousset – photo AL
With 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 project of a reusable capsule intended for space logistics, first in Earth orbit, then on the Moon. Your promise? Space freight made in Europe, affordable at just 25% of the current shipping cost. Its first prototype will take place aboard the maiden flight of Ariane 6.
Will a very young Franco-German start-up be able to “disorganize” the space logistics market? Created in June 2021 between Mérignac and Munich by a group of former employees of the ArianeGroup, CNES and Safran, The Exploration Company is actively working on it, with the ambition of offering a space vehicle, intended mainly for the logistics of supplying space stations in low orbit. ” In a few years, we’ll 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 does not have its own means of access. Therefore, it seemed essential to build it “explains Hélène Huby, co-founder and CEO of The Exploration Company.
Divide the cost of space logistics by 4
Named Nyx, this vehicle is intended to be both reusable – therefore capable of returning to Earth, agnostic to the launcher used (Ariane, Falcon, Soyuz or Chinese or Indian launchers, etc.) mission. The Exploration Company intends 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 SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Nyx should 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. . ” A launcher like SpaceX is the container ship. We design the delivery truck sums up Hélène Huby. Food supplies, scientific equipment delivery, spare parts… The Exploration Company promises a reduced delivery cost by a factor of 4 compared to current space logistics solutions. ” We aim 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 new private players in New Space.
Technological bricks developed in New Aquitaine
For high-flying startups, value doesn’t wait for number of years. ” Most of us have worked on Orion “recalls Hélène Huby. If piloted by NASA, the exploration vessel responsible for preparing man’s return to the Moon has, in fact, benefited from an important European contribution. ” We have already designed, qualified and piloted a vehicle capable of going beyond the Moon and back “. The development of the Nyx presupposes, however, the development of several great 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 work with electric pumps. ” We have already worked on the project, tested the injectors and electric pumps, 2023 will be dedicated to the combustion chamber “, describes Hélène Huby, who is already planning the construction of a dedicated factory and a test bench in the region. ” 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 necessary components for the return to Earth of its capsule, from thermal protection to dedicated electronic systems. For this, it has already developed a miniature prototype, called Bikini, which is one of the 11 projects selected for the inaugural flight of the Ariane 6 launcher, alongside another Girondin project, the 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 « risk » the operation as much as possible before the second test mission. Dubbed Mission Possible and scheduled for 2024, it will consist of sending a reduced-scale 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 “, celebrates Hélène Huby.
Growing in less than two years from a team of co-founders to 50 employees, evenly distributed between Gironde and Bavaria – where final assembly will take place, The Exploration Company plans to double its workforce in 2023, before likely doubling in 2025 Launched in equity, the startup has already raised 5.3 million euros in 2021 and is currently working on its series A. Based at the Bordeaux Technowest premises, on the edge of the airport slopes, The Exploration Company is expected to follow the science park in its new building, the Cockpit, when it is delivered in September.
The Exploration Company
Founded in 2021
25 Rue Marcel Issartier, 33700 Merignac