E-Space announces $50M in seed funding to put 100K sustainable satellites in orbit and clean up space debris

Greg Wyler, the space entrepreneur who founded founded both O3b Networks and OneWeb [1.], plans to put up to 100,000 satellites in orbit this decade with his latest satellite business venture named E-Space. The company on Monday said it had raised $50 million in seed funding (largest space seed round ever) from Prime Movers Lab, a fund that invests in breakthrough scientific start-ups.

E-Space says it will enable a new generation of space-based communications capabilities. The start-up plans to create a vast “mesh” network of small satellites that can deliver bespoke and commercial services to business and government, from secure communications to remote infrastructure management.

In a world where satellites are becoming space polluters, the new E-Space systems have the double bottom line of sustainability as they will eventually actively and sacrificially capture and deorbit small debris in space while performing their function as communications satellites.

“One of the best ways to understand and manage Earth is from space,” said Wyler, founder and chairman of E-Space. “We designed E-Space to democratize space, to enable the collection of continuous data about our planet with real-time information of sensors and devices across the world to combat climate change, and to upgrade our electric grids. Importantly, we’ve built sustainability into everything we do. We are designing our systems to not only prevent space debris generation, but to eventually actively reduce space debris so generations to come will be able to access the power of space.”

Wyler’s plans come as the world becomes increasingly concerned about the risk of collisions in orbit and resulting space debris. Since 2019 the number of working satellites has risen 50 per cent to roughly 5,000, largely because new commercial groups are exploiting lower launch costs to build businesses in low-earth orbit, 150km-200km above the earth. Elon Musk aims to launch some 40,000 satellites for his Starlink internet service.

Wyler insisted E-Space will leave low-earth orbit cleaner than before its satellites are launched, with a network that will collect and deorbit debris even as it provides connectivity services. The satellites have a substantially smaller cross section than rivals, Wyler told the Financial Times, and will be designed to “crumple” rather than break apart when struck. They will also “entrain” any debris they encounter and automatically deorbit when a certain amount has been collected.

“Like oysters in the river that filter the river and clean it, our satellites are the first to be designed to clean space.  The more satellites we have, the cleaner space will be,” Wyler added.

Greg Wyler while at OneWeb in 2019. IMAGE courtesy of Sarah L Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty

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Anton Brevde, partner at Prime Movers Lab and on the board of E-Space, suggested Wyler’s innovative design would do for satellites what Apple’s iPhone did for mobile phones.

“Greg is an icon of space innovation with an unparalleled track record of pushing the industry forward by turning bold ideas into everyday reality.  E-Space is uniquely built to bring the power of space to any business or government while actively reducing the existential threat of space debris. The company already has several advanced conversations with major customers and is poised to take satellite mesh networks mainstream.

”How do you minimize a 300kg satellite to something that is an order of magnitude smaller? How do you go from the personal computer to the iPhone, something that is smaller and thinner.  It’s a whole bunch of innovation that came together. He has been brainstorming for years on how to make communications satellites as small and cheap as possible,” Brevde added.

E-Space “must be able to freely decide on its technology path, on its vendor selection and on its component path, where shareholders are purely financial as opposed to strategic,” he added. The start-up plans to launch its first test satellites next month and a second batch at the end of the year, after which it aims to start building its constellation. Wyler acknowledged that E-Space was likely to require another funding round but insisted his network would cost a fraction of existing LEO constellations. “The historical model of spending $5bn-$10bn is broken,” he said. “We are running at about 10 per cent of the cost of prior LEO constellations.”

E-Space has all the licenses needed to be able to deliver the service on multiple frequencies, Wyler said. The licenses had been acquired through Rwanda, which last year applied to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva to license more than 300,000 satellites. [The Rwandan government was an original investor in OneWeb.]

Note 1.  Wyler founded OneWeb in 2012 under the name WorldVu and was the company’s first CEO. OneWeb went bankrupt when investors pulled out in 2020, and the company was brought back under an ownership consortium led by Bharti Global, including the United Kingdom government, Eutelsat, and Softbank. OneWeb was also formed with the mission of connecting the world. The company still promotes that mission, along with providing connectivity to enterprise verticals.

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E-Space will provide the world’s first federated systems that can dynamically extend satellite capacity for a multitude of applications, ranging from secure communications to managing remote infrastructure.

Core to this approach is E-Space’s new generation of satellites that make space affordable and accessible, enabling custom networks for companies and governments globally while providing unparalleled security and resiliency. E-Space’s novel peer-to-peer satellite communication model enables real-time command and control and global insights. Dedicated constellations ensure sovereignty and eliminate exposure to foreign entities, using a “Zero Trust” topology to protect data.

E-Space places sustainability at the heart of its architecture, building on five key design tenets to make space safe:

  1. Minimize satellite debris on collision: Satellites should minimize the number of new debris objects that are generated, with zero being the ideal goal.
  2. Capture and deorbit: Satellites should be designed to minimize the debris from objects they hit and capture debris they contact to prevent further collisions.
  3. Fail safe: Satellites should be designed to fail into a high-drag configuration where they passively, and quickly, deorbit.
  4. 100% demise: Satellites must fully demise upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
  5. Small cross section: Large cross-section satellites crowd others from space and will cause collisional cascading and debris creation. Small cross-sections make satellites much less vulnerable to collision and LEO constellations should limit their individual and cumulative cross-sections. System-wide cross-sections should be tracked and considered relative to calculations on total orbital carrying capacity, for individual altitudes to enable appropriate sharing.

The investment fully funds E-Space’s “Beta 1” launch of its first test satellites in March 2022 as well as its second “Beta 2” launch later this year. Mass production is slated for 2023. The company is composed of two independent entities based in France (E-Space SAS) and the United States (E-Space, Inc.).

About E-Space:

E-Space is democratizing space with a mesh network of secure multi-application satellites that empowers businesses and governments to access the power of space to solve problems on Earth. Founded by industry pioneer Greg Wyler, E-Space provides satellite constellation deployments with higher capabilities and lower cost to enable a new generation of services and applications, from 5G communications to command and control systems. The company puts sustainability at the forefront, with a purposeful design that minimizes and reduces debris and destruction while preserving access to space for future generations. Learn more at e-space.com.

Addendum:

China is also in the smart satellite business.  A Financial Times editorial on Monday by William Schneider stated:

“Both China and Russia have well developed advanced offensive capabilities in space. In late January, for example, China’s Shijian 21 (CJ-21) satellite disappeared from its regular position in geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the earth. The CJ-21 maneuvered close to one of China’s malfunctioning satellites in its 35-satellite Beidou constellation. There it used a grappling arm to move the malfunctioning satellite to a “graveyard” orbit.”

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References:

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2022/02/07/e-space-announces-largest-space-seed-round-ever-to-democratize-space-with-sustainable-satellites-and-reduce-orbital-debris/

https://www.satellitetoday.com/business/2022/02/07/new-greg-wyler-startup-e-space-raises-50m-in-funding/

https://www.ft.com/content/0db57559-a8d0-4e9b-aeef-e3e7d796d635

https://www.ft.com/content/7d566088-7d25-4fde-9b02-311f86eb845e

China to complete Beidou satellite-based positioning system by June 2020- to be used with 5G

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