WASHINGTON — A group of French companies with products targeting the NewSpace smallsat business has formed a group to coordinate their approach to export markets. Next stop: Satellite 2019 May 6-9 in Washington.
These 10 companies are persuaded that French government support for small satellite technologies is about to yield in-orbit results that should enable the NewSpace Factory members to begin an export push into the United States.
The NewSpace Factory includes companies that are not necessarily new; only one is a startup.
But they have technologies they see as well-suited to the smallsat market, which has replaced the geostationary-orbit satellite market as the industry’s growth driver. Some are already part of commercial constellations and appear well-positioned for constellation work in Europe and China.
Most of them have established business lines that should enable them to ride out what they agree may be a period of retrenchment in a NewSpace sector that bears characteristic of a bubble.
Space Intel Report spoke to seven of them. Here’s their pitch:
Anywaves is the NewSpace Factory’s sole startup, created less than two years ago to design and build a single product line: miniaturized, high-performance antennas for cubesats and drones.
The company was founded by Nicolas Cape, a former satellite antenna specialist at the French space agency, CNES.
“We have three off-the-shelf products now — two for nano-satellites, for S- and X-band telemetry, and one for drones,” said Gregory Beddeleem, Anywaves’s commercial director. “We should have two systems in orbit by the end of the year, one on the 3u EyeSat program in France.” He declined to identify the second.
Anywaves is not looking for financing now but may do so later this year. It is forecasting revenue of 1 million euros in 2019.
Agora Industrie President Benoit Moulas’s business includes Microtec, which does satellite cabling and space-qualified electronics cards and converters. Revenue in 2018 was 4 million euros and it’s growing at 10-15% this year.
But Moulas is mainly in Washington to introduce Comat, which builds satellite mechanical subsystems for precise antenna or camera pointing; and both react wheels and satellite plasma-electric propulsion for small satellites.
“We have real know-how in house in micro reaction wheels offering eight years of service life for a 1u cubesat,” Moulas said. “Our 30-watt PJP plasma thruster, for satellites weighing less than 50 kilograms, is being qualified in orbit with [French space agency] CNES for a flight to the International Space Station in 2020 or 2021. We are exploring options for a qualification flight this year. We have been preselected for two constellations — on in Europe and one in China.”
The China deal is awaiting French export approval, which Moulas said is likely. He declined to name the customer. The European constellation he also declined to name, but it’s almost certainly the CNES-backed Kineis 20-satellite low-orbiting program for geolocation and IoT.
“Some U.S. companies want everything done in the United States. Others are more open. At Satellite 2019, I am on a kind of reconnaissance mission during Satellite 2019.”
Comat did about 9 million euros in 2018 revenue and expects that to rise to 11 million this year. The company is hiring. Now at 95 employees, it plans to be at 110 by the end of this year.
CS Communication & Systemes designs software for controlling satellite constellations in orbit. “Controlling 100 satellites is not the same as controlling two or three,” said Nicolas Prouvelle. “Handling the data is more complicated, too.”
CS is part of the team building the French ANGELS satellite, billed as France’s first cubesat, which will test several new technologies and rove a new-generation Argos geolocation payload. It is scheduled for launch late this year.
Prospective smallsat prime contractor Nexeya offered indisputable proof of its belief in the market’s potential in April with the sale of the non-satellite divisions of Nexeya — third-thirds of the company’s revenue — to focus on small satellites: http://bit.ly/2Dh2Rzd
The remaining company has been renamed Hemeria. it reported revenue of about 36 million euros in 2018, including some defense-related work it is retaining, and a staff of 200.
Hemeria is part of the French ANGELS cubesat demonstrator, to launch this year, and is the putative prime for the 20-satellite Kineis geolocation/IoT constellation, which is still securing financing.
Laurent Javanaud, head of the smallsat business, said that outside of Europe, China is a prime target for Hemeria expertise.
The company has invested some 3 million euros to prepare for what it forecasts will be a market of 40-50 cubesats per year within five years. “We are looking at one or two constellations per year plus satellites built individually or in small numbers,” Javanaud said. “But Kineis is is major for us. It will be an accelerator.”
The company’s current product line supports satellites weighing up to 20-25 kilograms and is being expanded to handle 45-50-kilogram satellites.
Mecano-ID was founded in 1994. It builds structures for satellites and has its own 3,00-square-meter test facility for space hardware. it counts 75 employees and booked 9 million euros in 2018 revenue.
It has provided hardware for the Franco-Chinese SVOM satellite.
Steplhane Galinier, Mecano’s business development manager, said the company is in the United States to scout customers for its carbon composite satellite structures, which provide more stability than aluminum.
In addition, Mecano is looking at the cubesat market for a newly designed satellite deployer for for satellites of up to 12u, or up to 50 kilograms.
“The market needs a structure that can hold the satellite correctly during launch,” Galinier said.
Isn’t there lots of competition for that?
“Absolutely there is,” Galinier said. “But most of them have the Cal Poly approach, which is expanding from a 3u structure to design a 12u deployer. Our design is tailored for the larger cubesats, 12u or larger. they will need a deployer to keep them stable during launch, and to break the spin after separation.”
Mecano in 2018 invested 4 million euros — half its total annual revenue— in specialized robots to permit the compan to perform serial production of satellite structures. Customers can now choose from a catalogue to build their own space-qualified systems.
Syntony GNSS was founded in 2015 and notably built a software-defined receiver for the OneWeb constellation of 150-kilogram satellites, for which it provided 20 units.
Recently it booked a sale in China — “a Chinese enterprise active in the NewSpace area,” said Christian Bec Syntony’s vice president. Syntony has developed an IoT receiver that Bec said consumers 100 times less power than comparable hardware.
Syntony’s constellation simulator has recently found a new market in the Stockholm Metro, to simulate GPS signals underground. Riders use their smartphones to position themselves, and Syntony then synchronizes that signal to get a GPS reference, notably for emergency-response crews. Paris and New York are now interested.
Trad tests smallsat components, often based on off-the-shelf hardware for non-space markets, to determine their resistance to radiation, and then adapts them to be able to operate reliably and over time in orbit.
“As you can see, a large number of cubesats launched today don’t last long,” said Christian Chatry, director of Trad. “We have been doing this for 25 years.”
The company has 50 employees and 2018 revenue of 6 million euros.
“For NewSpace we are modifying what we do a bit to qualify automobile components for space.”
Because of technology export rules, some American companies are restricted in what kind of components they can send to France for testing. But Trad can write the specifications and simulation requirements for the prime contractor that, for whatever reason, want the testing to occur elsewhere.
Chatry said Trad has sold software, however, to the United States and in India and China.
Trad performed component testing for Airbus as part of the OneWeb program. OneWeb has shifted its production focus to Florida after an initial 10 satellites were built at Airbus’s Toulouse, France, facility.
Chatry said rad’s objective is 10 million euros in annual revenue in five years, and 100 employees. The company is now focused on space but wants to diversify. He said Trad sees openings in the nuclear power industry.