Lúnasa Space | X-Europe Startup Interview
Welcome to our X-Europe startup interview series. We have virtually sat down with a number of our founders from past cohorts to hear all about their solutions, vision for the future, and what made them tick during our X Europe programme. So whether you are a deep tech founder looking for startup support, an eagle-eyed investor, or simply interested in the possibilities that technology can bring to society, then we welcome you to take a read. Please meet Lúnasa Space, a startup developing a reusable orbital transfer vehicle to host and deploy NanoSats.
Can you briefly explain what your solution is all about? What’s unique about it?
Lúnasa is developing a reusable, modular, and autonomous on-orbit satellite transportation service where the customers share a ride by paying a very affordable launch fee according to their mass, and the cost of transportation to their destination (fuel consumption).
Currently, the service is exclusive to Low Earth Orbit destinations (<2000 km altitude) but the platform has the potential to be scaled up to transport satellites and cargo to Lunar and Mars orbit in near future.
Until now, Small Satellite developers (e.g. PicoSats, NanoSats, and MicroSats) have been facing many challenges in getting their payloads in orbit. For example, having affordable, frequent, and quick access to space are a few of the important needs of the industry. Additionally, most of these satellites are inserted into a sub-optimal orbital trajectory by the launch vehicle where they have to use high propellant mass to get to their optimal orbit.
Although Lúnasa is designing a platform to solve many challenges in the industry, the uniqueness of the vehicle is its reusability. The platform is utilizing a new concept of an intelligent visual-based GNC system which is used for automated rendezvous and docking on-orbit. By using this technology, the vehicle (VIA) is able to rendezvous and dock with the payload stage (known as AVA) for several missions.
What led you to start or join your company? What is the key motivation and mission behind the startup?
The small satellite industry is emerging rapidly. These cost-effective platforms are solving critical problems on Earth from Space such as Earth Observation, communications, etc. Through many hours of interviews with satellite constellation developing SMEs, we understood that they have high launch costs and many challenges related to access to space and in-space operations. We also reviewed the current solutions offered in the industry and found that although some of these platforms are making great progress in solving challenges for the industry, there are still many unsolved crucial problems.
This motivated us to form a highly experienced technical and commercial team and develop an innovative reusable platform focusing on customer needs and using modern space technology to solve the current challenges.
Lúnasa’s mission is to provide 1- highly affordable access to space for Small Satellites and allow them to reserve their orbit-raising fuel for extending their operational life, 2- host payloads on-orbit and provide power, data, thermal interface, etc., so that the customers do not waste time on developing the whole satellite platform and rather invest their time/resources on the core science/technology payload, 3- able to access higher-LEO altitudes as a hosted payload, uniquely offered by Lúnasa’s platform, 4- Reducing the time from launch to operations by up to 80%, saving weeks of delay in Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP), and 5- able to provide frequent and quick access to space due to reusability.
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has achieved so far, and what has surprised you most on this journey?
Although Lúnasa is a relatively recently established startup, there have been several milestones we have achieved so far in a little time but 2 of them are the most exciting ones:
1- Several Letters of Interest (LOI) and MoUs have been signed with potential paying customers nationally and internationally, who are willing to take on our services. These agreements include satellite developing companies and Launch providers and brokers.
2- We have signed an MoU for a tech demonstration mission by Q4 2023 with two companies based in the US and UK. Currently, we are preparing for that mission. It is a very exciting mission that involves de-risking the automated rendezvous and docking and refueling technology in Low Earth Orbit. This is the technology we will use to transform our platform into a reusable one.
What has surprised me most is the amount of support we have received from the industry! There have been many companies who have contacted us, willing to collaborate in our mission and support us in our development either as a paying customer or a supplier. Also, there is a lot of effort from the UK government to support the national space industry with grants and funding. These supports accelerate the SMEs to build the industry with new and innovative technologies.
How has X-Europe helped you during the past few months?
X-Europe’s programme has brought together 25 disruptive SpaceTech startups which we got the chance to meet and form potential collaborations with a few of them which is very exciting for us.
The programme has also supported us with world-class mentorship in areas such as business development, growth strategies, and investment readiness. As we are preparing for our seed round, these supports have been very useful for us.
What are your goals over the next 3, 6, and 12 months?
As we are preparing for our in-orbit demonstration mission by 2023, for the next 3 months we will be completing the recruitment process in regards to the development requirements of the technology. In 6 months from now, we will be completing the discussion with European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC) in the UK to be incubated in their facilities in Harwell. This will be a great opportunity for Lúnasa to take advantage of the facilities in ESA and associates in the ESA BIC programme to complete the development of the tech demo mission.
In 12 months from now, we will start officially offering clients ridesharing opportunities. We like to give the customers enough time to go through the mission needs with us so that we can offer well-designed orbital operations matching their needs.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur trying to pave his/her way in the Space landscape?
There are still many challenges in the space industry that need to be solved. But how to solve these challenges is not by just bringing in new ideas. We need to start by first going to the customers, listening to their needs and wants, finding out their main challenges, and then offering solutions to solve those challenges. This is what we did in Lúnasa as well. We started by first hearing out our customers and then we moved backward to design our platform/solution accordingly. If the solution does not solve actual customer challenges, today and in the future, it will be difficult to promote the solution to the industry.
Secondly, at least one of the founders of the startup must have some understanding of the space technical and commercial world before entering the landscape. I have seen many startups trying to enter the market with relatively interesting ideas but since their background does not have any connection with the space industry, they either fail early or take a longer time to enter the market.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Appreciate your time and make the most out of it! Time is one thing we can not cheat!
What’s unique about the X-Europe programme?
One of many interesting and unique things about the X-Europe programme in my opinion is the fact that the programme tends to connect the startups to different growing European regions such as Benelux. This is a great opportunity for startups to explore opportunities in different regions by either establishing a new branch and/or collaborating with existing regional companies.