Into Lúnasa's mind

By Antoine Favre-Felix

Currently, less than 3000 active satellites are orbiting the earth, and it is expected to grow by a factor of 10 in this decade, which actually adds up to about 30,000 satellites. Amongst these, smallsats (under 500 kg mass) represent a significant part of the cake, with an estimation of over 1000 smallsats deployments every year in the 2020s, which is about 5 times higher than in the last decade. As an example, in Q1 2021 alone, twice as many small satellites as in the whole of 2019 were launched, which shows how fast the smallsat market is on the rise.

However, even though more and more launch vehicles are available to deploy satellites, smallsat operators cannot afford an entire rocket! To meet the demand, ridesharing solutions are offered to smallsat operators. Put it simply, it means that smallsats – secondary payloads – hitch a ride to space by hoping on a launch vehicle purchased by a primary payload. As we would split the taxi fee to get home, smallsats are sharing a ride to space, which cut down the launch price per kg considerably.

Even with this in mind, this solution is still not flawless and is facing other important challenges. Even though these smallsats are  sharing a ride to space, they are still paying a relatively high launch price which is almost as same as their development cost. Moreover, the sub-optimal orbital insertion point by the upper stage  make the SmallSats consume high propellant mass to reach their final destination, which reduces the useful lifetime of smallsats. On top of this, smallsats cannot reach high Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) altitudes (<2000 km) due to technical and legislation  challenges. Now you might be wondering how all these problems can be solved all at once. Does it sound impossible? Well, let me talk you through Lúnasa Space’s solution.

Lúnasa Space was founded in early 2021 by bringing together a team of passionate engineers with the objective of tackling all of these challenges and accelerating the world’s transition to affordable, reliable, and sustainable access to space. To do so, Lúnasa Space is currently developing VIA, an innovative Reusable Orbital Transfer Vehicle able to deploy every smallsat individually and precisely in its operational orbit, anywhere in LEO. By that, VIA offers a cost-effective deployment solution that allows smallsats to reserve fuel which  extends their lifetime and is also more environmentally friendly. Additionally, VIA offers the possibility to host payloads through their entire mission and take them anywhere in LEO for experimental needs of operators.  In the upcoming blogs, we will elaborate more  on these challenges and how VIA is designed to solve them.

What makes VIA so innovative is its reusability feature which brings multiple benefits. First off, the vehicle makes the in-space operations more sustainable by consuming the full length of the sub-systems’ life span. Also, the development time and costs can significantly drop, because it does not have to be built up from scratch every time. By that, smallsat operators can have more frequent access to space since the platform will take less time to be developed. Furthermore, it means that the price for smallsat operators reduces further  since the cost for development, labour, and launch are much less than an expendable vehicle.

Stay tuned for more updates about Lunasa’s journey towards an affordable, reliable, and sustainable access to space!