Europe’s dawdling on the Ariane 6 is becoming increasingly costly as the new era of space race exploration — and exploitation — heats up. The Exploration Company, based in Bordeaux and Munich, has just signed an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in service of its aim of making it to the Moon by 2028.
The startup will partner with ISRO’s commercial arm, New Space India Limited (NSIL), for launch services using ISRO’s medium-lift Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
The first mission is scheduled to launch in January 2024, and will involve testing of the Bikini. This is a small prototype of the startup’s modular and reusable orbital vehicle called Nyx, named after the Greek goddess of the night and the creation of the cosmos. Nyx is intended to have open interfaces, available on a SpaceStore to enable space and non-space companies to develop new applications.
While Bikini will burn up in the atmosphere, it will be followed by a reentry prototype called Mission Possible, complete with a planned ocean splashdown. The first orbital mission is currently scheduled for 2026.
Bikini was originally intended to fly with Arianespace’s three-stage launch system Ariane 6 this autumn. However, delays to the program of the European launch vehicle has caused the German startup to seek its ride to space elsewhere. (Last we heard, Ariane 6 is now scheduled to launch next year.)
The reusable space capsule race to the Moon and back
This is not the only space mission business Europe has lost out on as a result of its launch vehicle vacuum. For instance, UK-based Open Cosmos is launching its satellites onboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Indeed, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) own Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE) satellite mission is likely to commission SpaceX for the launch — and it won’t be the first instance.
Meanwhile, The Exploration Company is hoping to compete with Musk’s SpaceX and its Dragon spacecraft, and bridge the space cargo capacity gap for Europe.
The startup intends for Nyx to bring cargo, and eventually people, to the International Space Station (ISS) and the Moon. For Moon delivery — including to Lunar Gateway, NASA’s first planned lunar orbit space station — prices will start at €150,000 per kilogram.
“America has reusable capsules. China has reusable capsules. Europe has no [equivalent] capsules. It’s quite important we have the capacity to do this,” cofounder and CEO Hélène Huby told Sifted earlier this year.
The company is privately funded and in February raised €40mn in the largest ever Series A for European space tech, taking the total amount of funding to €46.8mn.