Open Cosmos: Reducing the Cost of Space Access for Nanosatellites
U.K. startup Open Cosmos hopes to drastically reduce the cost of accessing space for nanosatellite operators with its new end-to-end mission service. According to Rafel Jorda-Siquier, the company’s founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Open Cosmos can take its customers’ payloads from development to launch in under 10 months for just 500,000 pounds ($631,200).
Under normal circumstances, launching a payload into orbit can cost anywhere from “2 million to 5 million pounds ($2.5 million to $6.3 million) per mission on average,” Jorda-Siquier said. He believes Open Cosmos can reduce that price point tenfold by acting as the middleman between the nanosatellite operator and the launch provider, and also by managing ground services once the satellite is in orbit.
According to Jorda-Siquier, Open Cosmos simplifies the entire process by taking care of all the details that make organizing a mission both laborious and expensive. That includes mission simulation, spacecraft design, testing and integration, launch procurement, frequency allocation, and insurance for its customers.
For Open Cosmos’ business model, Jorda-Siquier said there are three elements key to reducing costs. The first is how it handles the development phase for new missions. Instead of handcrafting a satellite for each payload as is commonplace in the industry, Open Cosmos shares with its customers a development kit called qbkit, which is essentially a mockup of the future satellite with the same electronic and mechanical interfaces present in the final design.
“[Customers] can, at their own pace and under their own budget, adapt the payload against those physical and electronic restraints,” Jorda-Siquier said. Once the functional capabilities of that payload are guaranteed under that framework, Open Cosmos then guarantees the payload can be easily integrated and will be operational once in orbit.
The second element Jorda-Siquier highlighted is economies of scale. Launching just one satellite at a time, especially when they are as small as 20kg, simply isn’t cost-efficient, he noted. Instead, the company is taking a similar strategy to Deep Space Industries, which is looking to leverage rideshares to orbit as many satellites as possible at the lowest price point.
Lastly, he said, Open Cosmos has benefited from bringing the technology it implements in its satellite buses in-house. The company manufactures its own subsystems but also takes advantage of commercial components to, again, keep costs low. “Even though we have our own subsystems — and most of the customers are going forward with those because we cover their needs — if a mission comes with a particular requirement that is not covered by our subsystems, we are more than happy to take one off the shelf,” Jorda-Siquier said.
As proof of concept, Open Cosmos launched its first nanosatellite from the International Space Station (ISS) in March, which carried a scientific payload financed by the European Commission. According to a statement, Open Cosmos took the project from design to delivery in just four months.
Open Cosmos also won a contract this month to become the first mission provider on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Pioneer program. The company will support ESA with “the entire service — the platform, the launch, the ground segment, operations — for the mission of flying a high-end telecommunications satellite,” Jorda-Siquier said.
Jorda-Siquier noted that everything Open Cosmos has accomplished so far was only possible with the support of early-stage investor Entrepreneur First. “The environment there is amazing because you are working alongside people who are also starting their companies at the same time,” he said, which further motivated him to get Open Cosmos off the ground. Not only did he receive initial funding for his company from Entrepreneur First, he said, he also recruited some of the first members of his team from its network. “It always helps when people with the right connections and the right environment can guide you,” he said.
As for the future, Jorda-Siquier said Open Cosmos is in talks with customers from a range of verticals. “We have customers that want to fly optical satellites, others that want to fly telecommunications payloads, others are scientific or demonstrations for new technologies. It’s quite a broad portfolio we’re culling,” he said. “We are really glad to be doing that because it means we’re enabling people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to put that technology up there to do it at a lower cost.”