Space satellite startup Open Cosmos has raised $7 million in a series A funding round as part of its mission to make satellites more affordable and more accessible to everyone. The round was led by BGF Ventures, with participation from LocalGlobe, Entrepreneur First, Transferwise cofounder Taavet Hinrikus and Microsoft’s former head of corporate strategy, Charlie Songhurst.
Located at ESA Business Incubator in Harwell Campus, 13 miles south of Oxford, Open Cosmos intends to use the money to grow the team from 22 to 50 staff, 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.
Jordà 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 ($700,000) 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,” said Jordà Siquier.
The actual satellite launch is outsourced to companies that specialise in rocket launches. “We have agreements with all major launching companies in the world,” said Jordà Siquier. “We want to provide our customers with as many launch opportunities as possible to as many orbits as possible from any continent in the world.”
Once satellites are in orbit, Open Cosmos takes full control of them. 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 start-ups, and taking in another 160 new ones 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.”
Wendy Tan White, BGF Ventures advisor, said: “Rafael is an exceptional entrepreneur. We are excited and confident that Raf and his team are going to revolutionise the satellite industry in the coming years and we look forward to seeing what kind of applications entrepreneurs can build when they have relatively cheap access to satellite data and an easily accessible operations stack.”
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, Jordà 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 gearing up to manufacture 30 satellites a year and actively looking at locations to expand its manufacturing facilities. The satellites are currently being manufactured in Harwell.
“Under the PIONEER contract we signed with ESA, we will be providing an entire mission (satellite, launch procurement and operations) to demonstrate in orbit an innovative telecommunications transceiver,” said Jordà-Siquier. “We also have a contract with e2E to provide their two first nanosatellite telecommunication missions that will enable them to provide dedicated telecommunication services through satellites. We also have imaging satellites in our pipeline for organisations that want to take pictures and extract information from them.”
Stephen Welton, CEO of BGF, said: “Open Cosmos is a fantastic example of a business that has taken a scientific discovery and is now helping other firms, in an affordable and accessible way, to push the technology into new frontiers. That is innovation in its truest sense, and one of the most meaningful ways of promoting economic growth in the UK. We are delighted to be backing Rafael and his team with our patient, long-term capital and support.”
BGF has backed satellite companies Satellite Solutions Worldwide and Satcom Global, as well as M Squared Laser, whose technology is helping to overcome the fuel-intensive nature of space travel.
Suzanne Ashman, a partner at LocalGlobe, said: “The applications for small satellites range from cutting edge quantum science research to humanitarian and natural disaster response. These small satellites also have the potential to disrupt huge industries from shipping to agriculture. We believe this is an incredibly exciting time to be investing in affordable space access.”