Who would have guessed that Blue Skies Space Ltd. (BSSL) — a space start-up that would soon claim to be “the world’s first provider of commercial scientific satellite data” — would find its first home in an obscure side street? Uka On the edge of London’s financial centre?
However, BSSL, which is funded through a unique combination of private and public funding, is preparing for the final design and construction phase of its first low-orbit satellite. And unlike missions funded directly by NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA), BSSL’s motivation is not just astronomy for science, but astronomy for profit.
Fifteen institutions around the world have already signed up to be part of BSSL’s second largest satellite project, Twinkle. Twinkle is a low-orbit satellite that acquires spectra of extraterrestrial atmospheres and objects in the solar system. Ohio State University, Cardiff University in the UK, and University of Liège in Belgium are among 15 early funding institutions as part of the Twinkle mission.
Marcell Tessenyi, CEO of BSSL astrophysicist, tells me in the IDEALondon conference room. , a self-proclaimed innovation center not far from the City of London.
Tessenyi describes the startup itself as a small business, having launched in 2014. Still, he only has his in-house team of 12 people who share IDEALondon’s co-working section.
But the company has already earned the trust of the astronomy community. This is probably partly because the three co-founders were already respected academics at University College London.
We are funded by the European Commission, with funding from the European Space Agency (ESA), the British Space Agency and Innovate UK, says Tessenyi. And there are angel investors, his friends and family are investing in this, he says.
If the BSSL succeeds, it will usher in a new era of astronomical observations and will be able to profit by selling subscriptions to the data produced by the satellites. This includes the sale of observation hours to public and private universities and institutions around the world.
The price to access the dataset is $75,000 a year, and $5,000 per hour of observation time at the space observatory once operational, Tessenyi said.
Specifically, BSSL aims to fill a niche between the multi-billion dollar marquee missions of national space agencies and the smaller CubeSat missions currently being conducted at many universities.
BSSL and future for-profit space science ventures could drive down the cost of doing astronomy from space. And perhaps in the process, the number of astronomical missions launched today will double or even triple.
BSSL’s own first space adventure will be to use a tiny €1.5 million, 15-centimeter telescope called Mauve, which uses ultraviolet and visible spectroscopy to monitor flaring activity in nearby sun-like stars. Become. The goal is to determine which of these stars would make good hosts for habitable planets, due out in 2024.
But the biggest mission the company has planned is Twinkle, a much more expensive, estimated $50 to $60 million satellite that will observe the atmospheres of planets around bright stars in our own galaxy. . Twinkle will only use telescopes less than half a meter in diameter, but it will need to survey thousands of objects from its thermally stable low-Earth polar orbit. This includes everything from exoplanet atmospheres and stellar disks to the surfaces of asteroids and comets in our solar system.
According to Tessenyi, the best-case scenario for Twinkle’s launch is the end of 2024.
What has been the hardest part of this entire startup venture?
The amount of complexity it has gone through to get to where it is today, says Tessenyi, including early-stage funding, partnerships with major manufacturers, and credibility with the user community. All of these different aspects are very hands-on, he says.
However, once these spacecraft enter orbit and acquire data, it is hoped that the costs will be recoverable, creating a surplus from the first subscriber customer base that can be used to invest in future missions.
Why did Blue Skies Space choose to be a for-profit company over a non-profit?
The for-profit route has completely changed the landscape, opening up far more doors in terms of funding opportunities, says Tessenyi. He says he thinks commercially to make it as agile and cost-effective as possible.