Celestia Aerospace — a company that is planning to use a fighter plane to launch nanosats

Celestia Aerospace is a company that provides turn-key solutions for companies that wish to do research and development of technologies in Low Earth Orbit. And they are using a fighter plane to launch nanosats!

But actually, the idea is not that novel. Back in the 80s, the United States Air Force created the ASAT program as part of the Star Wars initiative. It was a modified cruise missile designed to take out an active satellite in orbit with a kinetic vehicle. Basically, a 3-stage rocket which would travel from approximately 17,000 meters to 400–600 kilometers and deliver a 16-kilogram vehicle which would intercept an orbiting satellite and smash it to pieces.

In order to deliver the missile to 17 kilometers, the F-15 Eagle was chosen as a launch platform. The F-15, named Celestial Eagle, flew to its designated altitude and released the missile at an altitude of 70º nose-up. The ASAT missile reached orbit and destroyed the satellite (an obsolete solar observatory).

“The Sagittarius Launch System, developed by Celestia Aerospace, combines the knowledge gained by the previous projects with some novel ideas on our part, and the selection of a MiG-29 is one of them, as it is an aircraft whose performances match our needs, but with a service history long enough to be available on the private market as a demilitarized airplane”, says Daniel Ventura González, VP Aeronautics at Celestia Aerospace who is in charge of the launch systems.

Speaking about the short-term goals Daniel says that the company is currently looking into the purchase of the airplane. If the company succeeds in securing the funds in 2017, suborbital launches could come as soon as 2019 with a fully developed 3-stage launcher ready in late 2020 or early 2021.

What’s interesting, is that in the time of miniaturization of key components and the ever rapidly developing smartphone industry, it allows the company to access niche markets such as biopharma, semiconductors, communications, remote sensing, or even component spaceworthiness tests with limited costs. “Our objective is to offer turnkey solutions (design-construction-launch-operation) for a 1u nanosat for no more than Euro 200.000, thus opening orbital research to many more companies”, says Daniel.

Such companies as Celestia Aerospace could become an engine for the European space industry growth. “I think that, while we are lagging behind the US, Europe is rapidly catching up with several very innovative projects and more and more funding lines by the EU, Airbus, and ESA. We still have the bottleneck of the lack of dedicated launchers, which hampers the creation of more component and nanosat developers, but we are slowly gaining momentum”, says Daniel. For those space startups who are only starting their ventures Daniel advises to stay on target and have stamina: “This is a slow-moving sector, but once it reaches its critical point, everything happens very fast and you have to be ready to catch the wave”.

While building a top notch team in Spain, Celestia Aerospace found it hard to find a specialist at launcher development. “Bear in mind that it has to be someone familiar with airplane release systems, supersonic aerodynamics, and also with rocket engines and nanosat deployment, so he or she will definitely need some military background experience”, says Daniel.

Another big challenge for the company with a great idea and a talented team is finding investors. This, as Daniel mentions, is one of the biggest challenges for many other space companies. Investors have to realize just how much is to be gained not only by the major players but by the new batch of SMEs which will change the face of space business forever much the same as aviation did in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century.

“We are truly at a turning point in history. Space has gone from being 100% public sector to letting the private sector lead the way, with large companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin carrying the banner, but soon it will be the turn of the small and medium companies which will revolutionize the way we see the access to space. We kindly ask the Spacer community to spread the word of our project and, should you know any enthusiastic investor willing to be a part of the first dedicated nanosat launch system, please be sure to let us know”, concluded Daniel.

We wish all of the best luck to Celestia Aerospace team and we’ll definitely keep spreading the word about the company’s progress on their way to make space more accessible.