Wow, what a time we live in. Incredible innovation is occurring around the globe to create a “new space” or “Space 2.0” sector, with hundreds of startups and breakthrough technologies enabling a whole new industry. However, while optimism abounds, there are serious headwinds.
For a Space 2.0 startup to launch a satellite into low earth orbit there are many challenges. A critical but less well-known problem is that, even if you successfully develop your new small satellite, you might not actually be able to find a ride into orbit. This difficulty exists because most rockets today are built and configured to transfer large loads to orbit, typically 1000 kg or more. So if you have a small payload in the 100 kg plus range, you are stuck with waiting for some spare capacity on an existing launch, or worse, in the case of a CubeSat in the 10 kg to 20 kg range, you’ll need to find a provider that can combine a number of small CubeSats into a commercially viable launch package. The net result is that getting your company’s satellite predictably launched is hugely difficult, often resulting in delays of 6 to 12 months. If you are a startup, that uncertainty and delay can be very costly as you are most likely relying on the launch of your satellite for revenue and customer validation. A delay can mean you go out of business.
Our latest investee company, Gilmour Space Technologies is addressing the bottleneck issue. At Main Sequence Ventures is proud to lead the company’s Series B funding round.
Gilmour is developing a product offering that is specifically addressing the 100 kg to 400 kg payload requirements to low earth orbit. The “new space” small satellite revolution underway has thousands of satellites slated to be launched. Even with new launch providers coming on stream there is just not enough capacity for this need.
Gilmour has approached the capacity problem by developing a new hybrid rocket engine that will power its launch vehicles. The hybrid engine is an order of magnitude less complex than traditional solutions and it also much easier to manufacture, leading to a more predictable and lower cost manufacturing cycle. The simpler approach to the rocket engine will ultimately allow a customer to book a launch and have this done predictably within a business-friendly time frame.
The Gilmour Space Technologies investment is our second major investment in the Australian space industry. Main Sequence Ventures will continue to invest in this area and act as a keystone investor encouraging other venture and strategic funds to partner and invest in this exciting emerging industry.