ISAE-SUPAERO, A LEADING PLAYER IN AEROSPACE ENGINEERING TRAINING AND RESEARCH}
development of the space industry. Indeed, new industrial players (“space tech” startups) have emerged and are using space in a non-“traditional” way using agile digital-based methods.
The industrial space sector, initially managed by the State, is no longer the only significant player as regards space exploration. There is no doubt that these structural changes, although they emerged more than twenty years ago in the United States, are now reaching Europe.
ISAE-SUPAERO, a leading player in aerospace engineering training and research, supports this movement. While maintaining the technological excellence that has always characterized it, the Institute is preparing its students for a space industry that is now very different from what it used to be. Through its cutting-edge teaching, student projects, the hackathons it organizes, and more generally a major effort to give students a culture of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, the Institute is grooming the future generation of engineers who will shape the French NewSpace.
The Institute is also mobilizing its research potential on numerous themes at the heart of the NewSpace: Constellations of telecom or observation minisatellites, services in orbit, assembly in space, advanced space transport systems, lunar or Martian bases, agile development, industry 4.0…
THE NEWSPACE: ALUMNI CREATE SEVERAL STARTUPS!
ISAE-SUPAERO promotes innovation and supports and encourages today’s engineers to start their own businesses. In fact numerous graduates have decided to develop their business in the NewSpace. Spotlight on these emerging startups...
Co-founded by Clyde LAHEYNE (Mastère Spécialisé – Class of 2014), the Dark startup is designing a flexible path for the launch of commercial satellites, a unique platform for high-altitude testing and a new asset for the deployment of space capacities.
Co-founded by Paul LASCOMBES (Degrees from both École Polytechnique and ISAE-SUPAERO – Class of 2017), the Exotrail startup enables small satellites to move in space with optimized deployment, more efficient service performance and less space pollution.
Co-founded by Pierre-Damien VAUJOUR (Engineer – Class of 2008), the Loft Orbital startup deploys a space infrastructure as a service, offering fast, reliable and easy access to space.
Founded by Nicolas SCHMUTZ (Degrees from both École Polytechnique and ISAE-SUPAERO - Class of 1998), the Reuniwatt startup offers advanced solutions for high-resolution observation of cloud cover and solar radiation, as well as short-term forecasts.
The Exploration Company
Co-founded by Priyanka RAJKAKATI (Degrees from both Ecole Polytechnique and ISAE-SUPAERO - Class of 2017 / ISAE-SUPAERO PhD student – 2021), The Exploration Company startup makes space exploration affordable, available and open. It develops, manufactures and operates Nyx, a modular and reusable orbital vehicle that could possibly be refueled in orbit.
Founded by Fabien APPER (Engineer – Class of 2015), the U-Space startup designs and builds new generation nanosatellites.
Founded by Benjamin DAVID (Specialized Master's degree – Class of 2002), the Xsun startup builds advanced autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles that can go further, be quieter and safer for numerous applications.
SPOTLIGHT ON OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH STARTUPS
Adel Haddoud, an ISAE-SUPAERO engineer, set up the company Infinite Orbits which takes a new space approach to providing in-orbit services to telecommunications satellite operators.
Infinite Orbits turned to ISAE-SUPAERO to use our resources and obtain technical assistance. Here is an optical table on which opto-mechanical equipment has been installed.
EYESAT, A NANOSATELLITE TO OBSERVE THE ZODIACAL LIGHT OF THE MILKY WAY.
This university nanosatellite developed under the CNES Janus program was put into orbit by Arianespace in 2019. Many ISAE-SUPAERO students and engineers participated in its design, development and flight software, in cooperation with CNES.
Fabien Apper, co-founder of the U’Space startup, was involved in the project when he was a student at ISAE-SUPAERO. A vocation in the field of space engineering was born!
U’Space continues to be involved in this project for which CNES has granted them a right to market EyeSat’s technologies.
Photo: The EyeSat nanosatellite - credit: CNES
EXOTRAIL: INTERVIEW WITH CO-FOUNDER PAUL LASCOMBES (CLASS OF 2017)
After developing the software business focused on mission analysis and satellite operations, Paul Lascombes, co-founder of Exotrail in 2017, now holds the position of Scientific Director and Vice-President in charge of developing the startup’s in-orbit services business.
Exotrail is an orbital logistics company that covers the entire spectrum of mobility needs for the space industry through the provision of hardware, software and mobility services.
Photo: Paul Lascombes, ISAE-SUPAERO Alumni (class of 2017) and co-founder of Exotrail
When did your interest in the NewSpace emerge? How has this affected your professional life?
I studied at Ecole Polytechnique / ISAE-SUPAERO (2013 / 2017). I had already come into contact with space subjects during my studies in the Ecole Polytechnique before I arrived in ISAE-SUPAERO. In one group scientific project (2nd year at Polytechnique), I had to develop a means of testing an electric thruster with my classmates.
Beyond the satisfaction of succeeding in building this tool, I learned a lot from this first experience and got a real taste for space subjects. I developed this taste by taking part in SpaceUp (ed.: space exploration remote conference open to all) and with the organization of a Space Week at the École Polytechnique. After this I got an internship in a Swiss startup developing reusable shuttles – it was there I met one of the future co-founders of Exotrail, David Henri, who had also been at the Ecole Polytechnique in 2013.
I chose to do my final year at ISAE-SUPAERO, opting for space systems design and operation as my studies subject. I completed my studies with an internship at Airbus Defence and Space working on an innovative satellite tracking concept. This intense yet very specialized training gave me a broad view of the space sector.
On the entrepreneurial side, in parallel with my 2nd year project and internship in Switzerland, we decided to work on a technology developed at CNRS - the one for which I had built the means of characterization, with my classmates and scientists from the CNRS. So in 2015 we put together the basic elements of a business plan and drew up a roadmap for technological development. I was also able to set time aside for this project and benefit from training in an entrepreneurial program during my 3rd year at Polytechnique. We were able to launch the project technically when initial development funding was validated and we had access to CNRS resources. We then created Exotrail in the summer of 2017 while I was an intern at Airbus.
To summarize, after having been introduced to the space field – from a technical but also practical point of view, during my studies and internships – I seized the opportunity to turn a research project into an industrial project. We were able to do this with the public funding we obtained to finance the initial work. We set up an exceptional team that worked part-time and during their free time for 18 months; we subsequently took the collective decision to fully embark on the development of a technological start-up at the end of my studies. This decision meant I had to forego several opportunities that arose during my studies, but I felt that I had nothing to lose by embarking on this entrepreneurial adventure at this time of my life. The benefits of this adventure far outweigh the small sacrifices that this requires at the beginning of one’s career.
How would you describe the added value provided by your company and more broadly the added value of the market your company is working on?
Exotrail is an orbital logistics company, in this we help our customers optimize their launch operations, maintain their satellites in operational condition and manage the end of life phase. Our solutions are based on hardware, software and services.
Indeed, we sell a range of electric thrusters suitable for satellites that weigh from 10 to 500 kg. We control the entire chain enabling these propulsion systems to be incorporated into a satellite and we can therefore offer both standardized products but also products adapted to the needs of our customers.
We have developed a suite of mission analysis and satellite operations software to take the use of electric propulsion and satellite constellations into account natively.
Finally, we are developing an orbital transfer vehicle to provide greater station acquisition flexibility for satellites from 1 to 250 kg. This vehicle is based on our propulsion systems and operated via our software. We therefore master two of the most complex technological components required to make this type of orbital vehicle.
Exotrail offers mobility solutions for all players in the space sector. This mobility therefore makes it possible to optimize constellation launch scenarios, facilitate access to space in complex orbits and finally speed up the development of a rich commercial space industry!
Photo: Exotrail offers mobility solutions for all players in the space sector
What is your vision of the NewSpace for France and the prospects of the sector on a national level?
First, we must be clear about what we call the NewSpace. For me, it consists of two essential ingredients: open and stimulated competition and the use of development methods from fields other than space. It is also, of course, a means of generating income that is evolving. When compared to the traditional mode in which whole systems were developed and operated by state authorities (military observation satellites, scientific missions), the NewSpace involves the purchase of services by a multitude of players, and first and foremost public organizations: by purchasing images rather than Earth observation satellites for example, or by creating new markets such as terrestrial broadband connectivity.
The first point, open competition. This competition brings two new features to the space sector: a need to be efficient, to seek rapid ground-breaking improvements that gives you an edge over your competitors and enables you to address a business market. This philosophy was not present historically, with large multi-year projects and no need for innovation to survive in the short term.
The second point is the use of development methods from sectors other than space. Today everyone works “in agile mode”. But the slogan is not enough. It must be applied in practice: the management of the company must be regularly questioned in order to gain in efficiency. The two biggest changes that the NewSpace ushers in are firstly the use of new more participatory and direct management methods and secondly production methods where the effect of manufacturing in series is not only felt in terms of prices but also in global quality.
In my opinion, the NewSpace should not just be a mixed bunch of all the new space companies less than 10 years old, but should be an overhaul of organizational methods, both at the corporate and public authorities level, the latter being the biggest (direct and indirect) customer in our industry.
The NewSpace is not intended to remain “new”, it is the whole sector that is gradually moving into this new way of working in the space sector… whether willingly or not!
And, paradoxically, France is very well equipped to be the leader of this revolution, through the quality of its training establishments, its financing ecosystem and expertise developed over decades. However, it is weighed down by its past, with global players who remain very closely linked to the state’s industrial policy. If France really wants to have a leading position in tomorrow’s space industry, it must adopt new ways of thinking, new program management and general management methods and cannot ignore the ever increasing and powerful international competition. And this competition is coming from countries with little or no space experience.
France is a pioneer in this new industrial strategy, particularly through the France 2030 plan in which public procurement for emerging players in the space industry is clearly designed to enable us to develop. We must speed up and disseminate this model, in all our institutions and throughout Europe!
As a player in the NewSpace sector, what message would you like to convey?
For students: Do not be afraid to start your career as a start-up, you will learn enormously, quickly and it will stand to you regardless of what you do later! And do not hesitate to take on a project you feel strongly about if you think it is right for you. You never know where it will take you, and it just might take you very far indeed!
From a more general point of view, I think that we must collectively give ourselves the means to remain competitive, innovative and pioneering in the French space sector. This implies open competition, more accessible and less risk-averse institutions, and who also move rapidly while maintaining a strong, long-term vision. The 60th anniversary of the Agence Spatiale Nationale is a great opportunity to rethink its model and how to fulfill its long-term role. We must collectively shape the leaders of tomorrow, who will be competitive, innovative, focused and who will generate value for the entire French industrial fabric. And because Exotrail comes from a research project, I am aware that we should not neglect investment in disruptive technologies, then support those that have the potential to create a leader and radically change their market.
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