Open Cosmos

Space startup secures £5m investment

Open Cosmos has raised £4.9m in a Series A funding round led by BGF Ventures (formerly the Business Growth Fund).

LocalGlobe, Entrepreneur First, Transferwise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Microsoft’s former head of corporate strategy, Charlie Songhurst, also participated in the round.

Located at ESA Business Incubator in Harwell Campus, Open Cosmos intends to use the money to grow its team from 22 to 50, get facilities to manufacture 30 satellites a year and to significantly increase its marketing activity.

The company was founded on the prestigious Entrepreneur First incubator program in July 2015 by Rafael Jordà Siquier, who studied aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, before completing an MBA and work for a disruptive launching company and a big space corporation.

Siquier is democratising satellites in the same way that computers were democratised after their initial rollout in the 1960s. “Early mainframe computers were extremely expensive, there were only a few of them in the world and they were predominantly used by big organisations,” he said.

“They were several square metres in size until a few intrepid entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley made them portable, more affordable and disrupted a whole industry. Thanks to that, everyone now uses them.

“At first they didn't know what they would be using them for but now we all have indispensable applications in our pockets.

“The space industry is ripe for the same disruption we believe that our end-to-end service based on smaller, more affordable, more accessible satellites, will enable new applications to emerge.”

Those wanting to put a satellite into space have traditionally had to pay several million, wait for years and jump through many hoops but Open Cosmos is offering entire missions that start from £500,000 and can be delivered in less than a year.

The company’s satellites, which range from 4kg to 30kg, follow a standardised modular design that makes it easy to integrate almost any sensor. Space agencies, corporates, and entrepreneurs can use Open Cosmos satellites to demonstrate new technologies, carry out research, or provide services to their own customers.

The satellites have many uses. They could be used to collect images of vessels and track transportation of commodities, pirates, or illegal fishing. They could also gather images of natural resources to optimise agritech production, efficient use of water, sustainable mining, deforestation control, spillages and contamination. They could also be used to provide telecommunications to networks of connected devices.

Open Cosmos builds and assembles the satellites in Harwell, handling all the launch bureaucracy, and even operates the satellites so customers use the satellite right from their computer. The company has also developed a software platform, qbapp, where customers can define missions and payloads for their satellite. The platform allows customers to simulate entire missions, access potential launch opportunities and pick a satellite design, among other things.

“We try to remove barriers for our customers and we do it through a combination of hardware, software and services that together have a one-stop-shop effect where we deal with everything,” added Siquier.

Once satellites are in orbit, Open Cosmos takes full control of them and data collected by the satellite will be sent to the customer.

“It is great to see that an ESA Business Incubation Centre start-up has come up with such a smart, efficient, low-cost and successful solution to go into space,” said ESA director general Jan Wörner.

“Open Cosmos is an excellent example of the entrepreneurs and their start-ups we are supporting in our 18 centres. In total we have now fostered over 600 startups and are taking in another 160 new each year.

“They come up with new concepts and develop new disruptive innovations building on space technology spin-off and satellite data. Like Open Cosmos, solutions which add quality to our daily life, create new business and new high-tech job.”

Open Cosmos is already off to a flying start after it successfully launched its first satellite for the European Commission QB50 program in 2017.

Explaining how the mission came about, Siquier said: “When I founded the company, three months in I realised that one of the programmes in Europe (the QB50 programme) was struggling. They had to launch 50 satellites but basically none of them had been delivered and only 10 were underway.

“So I started cold-emailing — because I knew the launch had been procured already — the people who were managing the program to see if they would allow me to join with one satellite.

“It was awkward because the satellite needed to be delivered in eight months which in the space industry is absolutely nothing.

“Eventually I put together a preliminary design alongside some of the early members and they accepted it. We proved we could deliver a satellite with 10x less money and 10x less time than anyone else.”

Open Cosmos is now gearing up to manufacture 30 satellites a year and is actively looking at locations to expand its manufacturing facilities.

Published: 18 April 2018

Article by Bryce Wilcock
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