D-Orbit charts an ambitious course for space logistics activities
SAN FRANCISCO — Space logistics company D-Orbit announced on June 9 a $2 million contract with the European Space Agency to improve production of its ION satellite carrier.
It was the latest victory for the Italian company with ambitious plans to offer a wide range of satellite services ranging from active debris removal to space-based cloud computing.
Under the contract, ESA will fund D-Orbit’s campaign to improve performance and reduce the cost of ION, the vehicle that transports cubesats and microsatellites from the point where a large rocket drops them to their desired orbital destinations. .
The growing popularity of rideshare flights like SpaceX Transporter missions is expected to drive demand for last-mile delivery. Euroconsult’s report on space logistics markets published in May forecasts 120 orbital transfer vehicles in service by 2031.
A dozen companies around the world design, develop and test orbital transfer vehicles. For now, D-Orbit is the only company with a flight-proven commercial vehicle, said Renato Panesi, Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of D-Orbit. SpaceNews.
D-Orbit first introduced its last-mile delivery service in 2020. Over six flights, D-Orbit carried more than 80 payloads into orbit, including 60 satellites deployed from ION and additional payloads hosted onboard .
D-Orbit also maintains a range of products and services for other space companies.
Beyond Gravity, for example, formerly called Ruag Space, awarded D-Orbit a contract in April to supply carbon fiber reinforced polymer tools and metal structural components for ESA’s Space Rider. Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for Space Rider, an unmanned laboratory designed to host technology demonstrations and science experiments in low Earth orbit, before returning payloads to Earth. The Space Rider vehicle will then be refurbished, refueled and loaded for another flight.
The Space Rider mission “is fully aligned with our vision to enable profitable commercial and human expansion in a sustainable space,” Panesi said.
In the long term, D-Orbit aims to dominate the space logistics market.
“The idea is to support the customer journey, from mission analysis to launch to decommissioning,” Panesi said. “It’s about having your assets positioned correctly when you want them to be.”
D-Orbit intends to offer satellite services including inspection, refueling and minor repairs.
“Perhaps we can consider active debris removal as part of the service, today in low Earth orbit, later in geostationary orbit,” Panesi said. “In the distant future, we will see potential markets for on-orbit recycling and manufacturing.”
In the meantime, D-Orbit is laying the foundation for a space-based cloud computing business.
“If we manage to have an ION equipped with its own cloud computing suite and inter-satellite links, we can have a small constellation of nodes processing information,” Panesi said.
D-Orbit worked with Sweden’s Unibap to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computer module onboard ION in 2021.
“One of the things that we will be testing later this year or early next year will be inter-satellite links, both optical and radio frequency,” Panesi said.
Financially, D-Orbit is preparing to merge with Breeze Holdings Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. The merger is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.
Although SPACs are not as popular in the space sector as they were in 2021, Panesi remains confident that the deal will benefit D-Orbit.
“On the one hand, we get capital,” Panesi said. “On the other hand, we have a valuable partner to help us penetrate, one step at a time, the large American market.”
D-Orbit employs approximately 200 people, the majority of whom are based near the company’s headquarters in Como, Italy. Additionally, D-Orbit has offices in Portugal, the United Kingdom and Falls Church, Virginia.