- SpaceX’s Rideshare has helped cut the timescale for getting into orbit from years to a few months.
- UK firm In-Space Missions is using the program to develop its own customizable satellite tech.
- It was able to send one of the 88 small satellites, or smallsats, that recently launched into orbit.
When you spend millions to build a satellite – each second you wait for its launch carries the weight of years of hard work.
Nobody knows that better than Doug Liddle, co-founder and CEO of In-Space Missions, and a nearly 30-year veteran of the space industry. He also led the design of the first Galileo satellite demonstrator, Europe’s premier global navigation satellite system.
Founded almost six years ago, Hampshire-based In-Space Missions aim to achieve a significant reduction in traditional timescales to get technology in orbit. The company designs, builds and operates bespoke missions for clients.
For large satellites, Liddle would previously have spent $11.8 million to launch one. Now the cost is around $1 million.
SpaceX has revolutionized the cost, Liddle said: “It isn’t just the slots on their rockets that are a low price. They’re also going several times a year. You can fill up a 200 kilogram slot on the rocket for $1 million, which is crazy. Compared to what it used to be.”
After having worked for the European Space Agency, the UK’s Ministry of Defence and several private firms, Liddle decided to cater to smaller businesses or early-stage startups valued in the $20 million range.
“There are people with great business ideas, who don’t know how to get their stuff into space,” he said.
Satellites provide deep insight for climate-crisis research but also have many common applications, including gathering data for credit card authorizations or even tracking wildlife.
With the advent of SpaceX’s reusable rockets, Liddle said the sky’s the limit for making space exploration more accessible.
“We’re in a world now where people can come out of university, set up a space company, and get something in space in a couple of years,” he said. “That was just unheard of even 10 years ago.”
In fact, his company is already spearheading its own technological advancements to further equalize the space race, while also making it sustainable.
Governments are increasingly implementing rules to reduce the environmental impact of spaceflight. More than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, or “space junk” are tracked by the US Department of Defense, according to NASA.
“You can’t just keep putting things into space,” Liddle said. “There is only physically so much space you can go into before you start banging into each other.”
Historically, each launched satellite has served a sole purpose. Liddle’s team, however, is not only hosting multiple customers on their satellite but has also designed technology that allows future satellites to be customizable from the ground. It’s expected to be publicly available in 12 to 18 months.
Liddle said: “We’ve developed a piece of technology that’s flying on this satellite, which we’re then going to expand and fly on future ones, that will allow people to, from the ground, upload their payload, their service, their application. So it would be like every app on your phone.”
The technology his team is developing will reduce the timescale from a few years to three to four months.
He used the analogy of using one piece of software to access Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.
“The technology that’s available now has got us to the place where you can fly loads of people in one spacecraft,” he said. “You can reconfigure it in software from the ground and upgrade it in the same way your phone will upgrade every so many months. You can do exactly the same with spacecraft now.”