D-Orbit – Space Logistics

This weekend I listened to the Space Business Podcast hosted by Raphael Roettgen, where his guest was Luca Rossettini, founder and CEO of D-Orbit, one of the most prominent European NewSpace companies. It was very interesting and informative and you can find it here.

I thought I would use some of the tools and techniques that I have been studying in the course on “The Business and Economics of Space” with Sinead O’Sullivan. Tonight we are doing a case study on Varda Space, tomorrow on Hadrian so today I thought I would practice with a look at D-Orbit. Their website is available here.

Founded in 2011, D-Orbit is the first company addressing the logistics needs of the space market.
The Company is based in Como, Italy, it has subsidiaries in Lisbon, Portugal, Washington DC, and Harwell, UK.

One of the first things that caught my eye as a key differentiator is that D-Orbit was one of the first European companies to be registered as a Benefit Corporation, and the first certified space B-Corp worldwide ! D-Orbit places equal emphasis on three pillars: profit, social benefit, and global impact. Their products and services are designed to solve global challenges with a high social impact. D-Orbit’s business approach goes beyond the mere economic benefit: all of their activities aim at producing a wider benefit that can impact positively on humanity.

Their Vision is to create the first space logistics infrastructure company to enable the next trillion-dollar space economy. The Mission is to provide end-to-end solutions to improve new and traditional space businesses by streamlining in-space and on-ground operations with unique, innovative and proprietary technologies. So what does that mean ?

D-Orbit is a service provider for the traditional and new space sectors, with capabilities in satellite manufacturing, launch, deployment, satellite operations, end-of-life strategies and solutions, space propulsion, and critical software. The initial offering was focused on the last phase of satellite missions, i.e. orbital debris mitigation. Today their products and services cover the entire lifecycle of a space mission, including mission analysis and design, engineering, manufacturing, integration, testing, launch, orbital transportation, and end-of-life decommissioning. The future roadmap is even more exciting expanding capabilities to the cis lunar and inter-planetary markets. D-Orbit is well positioned to benefit from a rapidly growing space economy that is expected to grow from 2020’s $425B estimated size (Space Foundation) to over $1.4Trillion in 2030 (Bank of America, Morgan Stanley)

D-Orbit already has an impressive record of flight heritage. They have successfully launched 63 payloads to date for paying customers. The current flagship platform is the iON (in-Orbit Now) , a platform capable of transporting a customer’s satellites into the right orbit and right place in space. They can raise satellites to 1,200 km, change planes, even change inclinations. This solves a number of issues for their customers, not only reducing the cost of launching their satellites but also getting them into the proper orbit and generating revenue faster.

In the rapidly evolving NewSpace market where LEO (Low Earth Orbit) market is king we are moving from an environment where there are 3,300 satellites operating today to one where there have been announcements for another 65,000 more sats to be launched in the next decade. LEO sats are built for shorter lifespans (ie 2 to 3 years) than traditional legacy GEO sats that were designed for 15 years lifespans. Time to revenue is hugely important to them, they don’t want to spend 25% of the sat life just getting into the proper orbit so D-Orbit is ideally positioned to grow.

If that was not impressive enough, the iON is designed to do even more. Once its satellite loads have been launched, the ION can be used as a testbed to validate hosted payloads. If a NewSpace company wants to validate and test their technology or sensor in space they can hitch a ride on the iON to test it there. Wait, there’s more ! The ION can also be used as an orbital data centre, and in the future be scaled with advanced robotics for in-orbit servicing to satellite operators; refilling, phasing, maintenance and eventually active debris removal ! Multiple missions and revenue streams from the same platform !

There have been three successful iON missions to date , Origin (launched Sept 2020), Pulse (Jan 2021) and WildRide (June 2021). The first was on an Arianspace Vega with the latter two launches on SpaceX Falcon9 Rideshares. There is another launch scheduled for December of this year per press releases on their twitter account. I also saw an announcement that they will be testing ION with India’s Skyroot Vikram launch vehicle so it looks like iON is designed to be compatible with many different launch vehicles.

On the latest mission I also read about their Nebula project as well. (read more here) Nebula is a game changer; an on-demand, in-orbit cloud computing, and data storage service. Designed to provide distributed high-performance data analytics computing and storage capabilities in space, Nebula is a hardware-software environment that enables end-users to uplink and run software and artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) apps in a way similar to conventional, terrestrial cloud environments. The test campaign successfully executed 23 separate applications developed by a variety of partners for disaster monitoring, video and image data transfer optimization, space domain awareness, advanced image processing for precision agriculture, defense early warning, and integrated satellite communication.

D-Orbit also provides space Components and Subsystems as well as their proprietary cloud based mission control software suite, Aurora . They are well positioned to provide a host of services to their satellite customer base. Satisfied customers, lead to repeat business as their constellations and networks grow.

The podcast highlighted the future roadmap of D-Orbit, a step-by-step expansion alongside their customers into the growing NewSpace Ecosystem. The longer term markets would include transporting to the cis-lunar market, inter-planetary (very complementary to the large rockets being planned for such missions), asteroids ; anywhere where there is a need for transport of people and goods in space.

My Deep Dive into D-Orbit left me very impressed with their technology, their heritage, the roadmap and the team. The commitment to sustainability and being a B-Corp also definitely sets them apart. This is a company with a very bright and long future ahead of them. They have proprietary solutions for a growing market, have been able to technically and commercially validate their approach and have an exciting roadmap for growing alongside their customers. Plus, unlike some of the companies I have read about recently they actually have revenues from paying customers !

This is definitely a company I will be keeping a close eye on and will watch with interest.

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