Monday, April 09, 2018

Deep Space Industries Hedges Its Bets

          By Brian Orlotti

Mountain View, CA based Deep Space Industries (DSI) has announced that it has secured a contract to provide its Comet water-based propulsion system to Seattle, WA based Spaceflight Industries (SI) for its BlackSky constellation of Earth observation satellites. The announcement is a welcome sign that DSI has secured a near-term revenue stream while the company pursues its long term goals.

Spaceflight Industries isn't the only customer for DSI. According to the March 15th, 2018 Satnews Daily post, "Deep Space Industries to Provide Comet Satellite Propulsion for Astro Digital," the Comet thruster is a "simple, launch-safe, and cost-effective electrothermal propulsion system that uses water as a propellant and can be customized for nearly any small satellite application. This is especially important for Deep Space Industries’ future asteroid mining plans, as water will be among the first resources mined from asteroids." As outlined in the article, Mountain View, CA based Astro Digital has also selected DSI’s propulsion solution "because of the team’s ability to deliver a unique and relatively large smallsat propulsion system on an incredibly aggressive schedule." Graphic c/o Satnews.

As outlined in the April 3rd, 2018 DSI press release, "Deep Space Industries to provide Comet satellite propulsion for BlackSky, LeoStella," DSI is a private US firm developing technologies for asteroid mining and space-based manufacturing. The company plans to make in-space materials commercially available for both space-based manufacturing and infrastructure by the early 2020s.

Under the terms of the deal, DSI will provide a set of 20 water thrusters for the BlackSky satellites, which are expected to begin launching later this year. The Comet propulsion system will be the first in a series of ‘green’ solutions developed by DSI for small satellites.

In contrast to other satellite propulsion systems that use high-pressure and/or toxic propellants, the Comet system uses water (steam) which is both low-pressure and non-toxic, enabling safer satellite launches. In the long term, DSI plans to develop propulsion systems that use propellants harvested in space.

Comet was originally designed to be a component of the DSI Prospector-X. As outlined in the May 5th, 2016 Linked-In post, "Prospector-X™: An International Mission to Test Technologies for Asteroid Mining," the Prospector-X was developed in cooperation with the Luxembourg Government and the Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement (SNCI), the national banking institution in Luxembourg. Graphic c/o DSI.

SI was founded in 2010 by Jason Andrews (who formerly worked for now defunct Kistler Aerospace) with Curt Blake, who has worked at Microsoft, Starwave, SpaceDev, and GotVoice, joining soon thereafter as SVP & General Counsel.

SI seeks to improve access to space by making launch more routine and cost effective through the use of standardized systems. SI’s two main brands are Spaceflight, their launch rideshare service and BlackSky, their geospatial intelligence service.

The company drives revenue by purchasing excess capacity from commercial launch vehicles (such as the Antares, Dnepr, Soyuz, and Falcon 9), then resells it to a number of "rideshare" secondary payloads, integrating all of the secondary satellites into one discrete unit. This provides substantial cost savings to reach orbit compared to buying an entire launch vehicle.

SI’s BlackSky constellation will eventually consist of 60 satellites that will provide high revisit rate Earth imagery. In combination with other space-based sensors, the satellites will be able to provide global monitoring and activity-based intelligence services.

The SI deal with DSI follows the recently announced $150Mln USD ($191Mln CDN) in funding and the formation of a joint venture with Cannes, France based Thales Alenia Space under the name LeoStella LLC.

LeoStella will setup a facility in Seattle to manufacture the BlackSky satellites and is expected to build twenty BlackSky spacecraft with DSI’s Comet propulsion technology by 2020.

DSI’s deal with SI is a classic win-win for both firms. SI will gain an innovative, greener and safer propulsion system while DSI will gain a steady revenue stream to sustain itself while pursuing long term goals.

The company’s short term survival needs came into sharp focus in mid-2017 when it let go of its CEO Dan Faber after the company failed to reach its sales targets.

Faber, a serial entrepreneur who started out in Canada as treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) has since gone on to found another space resources startup, Silicon Valley, CA based Orbit Fab, which "is working with a network of partners to remove barriers for commercial use of on-orbit materials," according to Crunchbase.

With the BlackSky deal, DSI will be able to survive and that order.
Editors Note: The DSI commercial business methodologies seem to be moving the company forward. As outlined in the April 17th, 2018 DSI press release, "Deep Space Industries Raises $3.5M+ Series A to Fund New Propulsion System and Deep Space Exploration Spacecraft," the company has announced that it has raised "just over $3.5M from private investors." 
The new funding "will be used to develop MeteorTM, the company’s new launch-safe bipropellant rocket engine, and continue the ongoing development of the XplorerTM spacecraft, the company’s deep space exploration platform scheduled for launch in 2020."
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page