The European Space Agency is on a mission to create its own version of SpaceX with The Exploration Company

Portfolio
May 24, 2024
min read

The European Space Agency is on a mission to create its own version of SpaceX with The Exploration Company

Portfolio
Published on
May 24, 2024
min read
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The European Space Agency is on a mission to create its own version of SpaceX with The Exploration Company

The European Space Agency is on a mission to create its own version of SpaceX with The Exploration Company

Portfolio
May 24, 2024
min read

The European Space Agency has kicked off an ambitious plan to create a European version of SpaceX, selecting one of our portfolio companies, The Exploration Company, to develop commercial cargo services to the International Space Station. 

The Exploration Company, which is a Franco-German start-up founded only three years ago, and Thales Alenia Space, a Franco-Italian space systems supplier, have emerged as the frontrunners in the race to become the first European space company to launch a commercially viable service to low Earth orbit. These two companies have secured initial funding of €25 million each to build a service that will revolutionize the space industry. 

A second round of funding will be decided at the next ESA ministerial meeting in 2025. This is the ESA’s first concrete step in emulating a strategy pioneered by the US space agency, NASA, almost 20 years ago, in which it will buy flight services from commercial companies rather than commissioning the development of rockets and spacecraft.  

At the Space Council in Brussels, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher signed contracts with Hélène Huby, founder and CEO of The Exploration Company based in Germany, and Massimo Comparini from Thal​​es Alenia Space based in Italy, to develop a low Earth orbit (LEO) cargo return service.

“I want to express my profound gratitude to The Exploration Company's team, the European Space Agency, the European Member States, and to our industrial partners,” said The Exploration Company’s CEO, Hélène Huby.

“We signed today our first LEO Cargo Return Service contract with the European Space Agency  becoming our anchor client. Our company has built two capsules and has ranked number 1 in a competition gathering the best European players.

I wish that this contract, which is the first service contract signed by ESA on such a critical capability, will significantly contribute to accelerating the Renaissance and the transformation of the European space industry, both for historic and for new players. The trust placed in The Exploration Company by the European ecosystem is also a responsibility to deliver. The team and I are, more than ever, focused on hitting our milestones. Thank you to all the ones who believed in our journey, and supported it.”

The selected companies will continue working on their projects with ESA’s support in the first phase of this competition. At the Ministerial Council in 2025, ESA will present its proposal for the remaining phases of the competition to its Member States for approval.

“The LEO Cargo Return Service project exemplifies ESA’s commitment to ensuring Europe’s prominent role in space exploration. It prepares us for the post-ISS era, strengthening European industry’s competitiveness in low Earth orbit operations, as well as being a test case for the ESA transformation and working differently,” says ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, Daniel Neuenschwander.

“We at b2venture are convinced that investing in space tech to keep Europe dynamic and resilient in the face of enormous challenges to free societies is the only way forward,” said b2venture Partner Gerrit Jurilj.

“The Exploration Company is a prime example of how Europe can wield innovation to fill the gap while inspiring more founders to think big about the future of space. Kudos to the ESA for the initiative and to Hélène and the team for their important and inspiring work.”

The European Space Agency has kicked off an ambitious plan to create a European version of SpaceX, selecting one of our portfolio companies, The Exploration Company, to develop commercial cargo services to the International Space Station. 

The Exploration Company, which is a Franco-German start-up founded only three years ago, and Thales Alenia Space, a Franco-Italian space systems supplier, have emerged as the frontrunners in the race to become the first European space company to launch a commercially viable service to low Earth orbit. These two companies have secured initial funding of €25 million each to build a service that will revolutionize the space industry. 

A second round of funding will be decided at the next ESA ministerial meeting in 2025. This is the ESA’s first concrete step in emulating a strategy pioneered by the US space agency, NASA, almost 20 years ago, in which it will buy flight services from commercial companies rather than commissioning the development of rockets and spacecraft.  

At the Space Council in Brussels, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher signed contracts with Hélène Huby, founder and CEO of The Exploration Company based in Germany, and Massimo Comparini from Thal​​es Alenia Space based in Italy, to develop a low Earth orbit (LEO) cargo return service.

“I want to express my profound gratitude to The Exploration Company's team, the European Space Agency, the European Member States, and to our industrial partners,” said The Exploration Company’s CEO, Hélène Huby.

“We signed today our first LEO Cargo Return Service contract with the European Space Agency  becoming our anchor client. Our company has built two capsules and has ranked number 1 in a competition gathering the best European players.

I wish that this contract, which is the first service contract signed by ESA on such a critical capability, will significantly contribute to accelerating the Renaissance and the transformation of the European space industry, both for historic and for new players. The trust placed in The Exploration Company by the European ecosystem is also a responsibility to deliver. The team and I are, more than ever, focused on hitting our milestones. Thank you to all the ones who believed in our journey, and supported it.”

The selected companies will continue working on their projects with ESA’s support in the first phase of this competition. At the Ministerial Council in 2025, ESA will present its proposal for the remaining phases of the competition to its Member States for approval.

“The LEO Cargo Return Service project exemplifies ESA’s commitment to ensuring Europe’s prominent role in space exploration. It prepares us for the post-ISS era, strengthening European industry’s competitiveness in low Earth orbit operations, as well as being a test case for the ESA transformation and working differently,” says ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, Daniel Neuenschwander.

“We at b2venture are convinced that investing in space tech to keep Europe dynamic and resilient in the face of enormous challenges to free societies is the only way forward,” said b2venture Partner Gerrit Jurilj.

“The Exploration Company is a prime example of how Europe can wield innovation to fill the gap while inspiring more founders to think big about the future of space. Kudos to the ESA for the initiative and to Hélène and the team for their important and inspiring work.”

Read more at the Financial Times
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