Company Spotlight: Lúnasa Space
Innovating in the space sector in the New Space movement is largely concerned with developing state-of-the-art technology, and de-risking this development so that the technology can continue to evolve. This is something that UK-based aerospace company Lúnasa Space are currently focused on within their technical development. In conversation with Lúnasa’s CEO Amin Chabi highlights the important work being conducted to de-risk the space frontier and provide sustainable in-space logistics and infrastructure services for the continued development of the space sector. For Amin, this is not only about Earth’s economy in-orbit but also about extending beyond the reaches of Earth’s orbit such as the Moon and Mars. He remarks, “I can see with the way technology is evolving, humanity can get access beyond Earth orbits …This is truly our vision as well”.
In the early stages of this aspiration, Lúnasa have developed a satellite servicing vehicle called VIA. VIA, as explained by Amin, gains its name from both its acronym Versatile and Intelligent Architecture (VIA), as well as its capacity to allow the space economy to travel through it (or in this case via it). VIA from Lúnasa is their first generation dual-stage automated miniature space station, which is primed to transfer other Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites with last-mile delivery and life extension services, it also offers itself as a reusable platform. This reusable functionality is part of Lúnasa’s effort to contribute to a more sustainable space model, focusing on reusability and longevity in supporting life-extension services for other satellites in Earth orbits and beyond.
Image above: Render of VIA, credit: Lúnasa Space
It is due to the versatile and intelligent architecture (their bespoke rendezvous software and docking interface) that each VIA is projected to execute seven to ten missions throughout its lifetime. These novel technologies allow VIA to dock with satellites already in space to relocate them to new orbits, and provide attitude and control system takeover for those satellites which have lost their manoeuvring capabilities. In this way, commercial operators can enhance their margins by receiving life extension services. Known as In-Orbit Servicing (IOS), this technology stands to significantly change the trajectory of satellites, allowing life extension and resulting in fewer decommissioned satellites congesting Earth’s orbit; minimising the potential of hazardous collisions between inoperative satellites and operational satellites which are crucial to our everyday lives on Earth. It is not only the sustainability piece that has gained widespread attention for Lúnasa, but also their efforts to increase the efficiency and speed at which companies can access space, as Amin notes, “VIA becomes a platform to get to space for the new space companies. Time is gold for them, and they want to be out there faster and more reliably”.
Time for Amin is one of the most exciting elements of the New Space era. He points to the slow pace of the Old Space industry requiring hundreds of millions in investment, extensive teams, and focus on single large and expensive missions. Amin remarks how the sector is changing and much smaller companies “can now launch their ideas and innovations so quickly compared to how it was before”. He continues, “fast forwarding maybe another 5-10 years, how different will it be?”. With this excitement for the future of space exploration, Amin also references speaking with peers in the industry, many of whom have even touched objects that have been in space; the remarkable nature of space entering their everyday lives. For him, this is a direct result of the increased access to space through the innovation of the New Space era.
Time is also a pain point with the current state of space policy. Being that much of the current and proposed legislation concerns risk mitigation, it is essential to consider the possible hurdles that could impact developing their satellite servicing vehicle. As Amin mentioned, “when we are talking about in-orbit rendezvous, close proximity docking and these kinds of areas, the chance of collision tends to be really high and any collisions in space can become catastrophic”. Due to high risks in space, one of Lúnasa’s top priorities, and key to their development methodology, is de-risking their technology through simulated in-orbit demonstrations on Earth. Much of their Earth-based testing has taken place at the Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) facility, wherein a target satellite has been attached to track and floor mounted robotics equipment which simulates in-space rendezvous and docking. Optimistically however, Amin remarks that although the legislation surrounding In-Orbit Servicing is limited because the field is relatively young, it is important that everyone is learning together and companies like Lúnasa are able to contribute in their areas to promote the uptake of innovative legislation.
Crucially, Amin understands the importance of multiple companies making up the space ecosystem; both in terms of promoting competition and thereby innovation, but also for collaboration and forging relationships. Having partnered with multiple different national and international organisations, Lúnasa finds value in the relationships created through the common goal of advancing the sector, making innovations more affordable and importantly more sustainable. He notes, “We always want to maintain space sustainability factors, this is generally because we care about our future generations and the fact that they will eventually want to benefit from space”. With these visions of the future, Lúnasa is set to change the sustainability of space operations, we hope to see further innovations and continued in-orbit technology de-risking from Lúnasa as they continue to grow with their expansion into new facilities in Harwell and London!