On May 25, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 carrier into a sun-synchronous orbit. It will carry a satellite designed by the Luxembourg company Space Products and Innovation (SPiN), which has developed an adapter intended to simplify the construction of satellites. The idea is to make launching objects into space easier and cheaper.
In any case, this is the direction taken by the space industry, whose players have endeavored to lower prices and barriers to entry. SpaceX currently charges around $1,200 per pound (2,470 euros per kilo) of payload to send an object into orbit. It may seem expensive but is only a fraction of what NASA used to charge: $30,000 per book.
But while payload prices have fallen, the cost of building a satellite remains high. This is the problem that SPiN, a Luxembourg start-up, hopes to solve.
In 2014, the future co-founder and CEO of SPiN, Ran Qedar, was involved in building a satellite system as part of his university studies. It took him three months to design the complex algorithms needed for advanced navigation and control, i.e. the software. And another whole year to integrate this software into the satellite.
“We discovered that there is no operating system such as Windows or Linux for satellites,” he explains. “We can’t afford to take risks. We cannot afford to have Windows crashing in space, nor the complexity of Linux with its open source parts of which we do not know everything.
As a result, most companies have designed, and are still designing, these systems from scratch, a time-consuming and expensive process.
Ran Qedar, however, found a video in which the US Air Force was performing the integration of software and a satellite in an incredibly short time of four hours, in 2008. It inspired him, but he s It turned out that years of design and mammoth sums of money went into just making this hookup moment possible.
“We wondered how to achieve the same result without spending a billion dollars and decades checking, qualifying and sending everything into space to make sure it works,” he explains. “That’s where we decided to develop an adapter.”
Ran Qedar and his colleagues moved to Luxembourg because of its space sector. “We believe that Luxembourg has the highest concentration of space start-ups”.
The CEO compares the SPiN adapter to a plug converter that you can take on trips abroad. Hardware-wise, it has over 25 different ports and eight interfaces. On the software side, the product’s communication layer “communicates” with the hardware in the same way that an operating system like Windows communicates with a computer.
“But the difference,” he says, “is that we had to design risk-free software. We measure time in microseconds. Any delay for a satellite flying at 27,000 km/h is a big problem.”
Another priority was to make the system highly configurable, so that new protocols could be added without a software update.
SPiN made its first sale in 2018, three years after winning a start-up competition in Bremen. The team took part in the Luxembourg Fit4Start program in 2021, with the aim of building a satellite using its own adapter, both as a “proof of concept” and to prove its capabilities to potential customers.
This satellite, called SPiN-1 and assembled in just four hours, will be launched by a SpaceX rocket on May 25.
Ultimately, according to Ran Qedar, the company’s goal is to enable satellites to be assembled using the parts and technology needed or already owned “and to have this sort of concept through which one builds satellites a bit like Legos”.
He estimates that accessibility to space will be more widespread for businesses in about two years.
This article was written by
in English, translated and edited by Paperjam in French.