Dark, the French start-up “launches” to take over the galaxy industry

Do you think it is possible to launch a rocket from an airplane while flying? The answer is yes and the creators of the French start-up Dark intend to establish themselves as a world reference in the field of orbit, but also in the recovery of the remnants of the galaxy.

French start-up Dark, founded in July 2021 by engineers Clyde Laheyne and Guillaume Orvain, plans in the near future to be able to send rockets or satellites into orbit from planes in full flight. Thus they will be freed from the constraint of launch pads and greatly reduce launch costs. Their desire for change does not stop there because the vocation of the Dark is not only to send satellites into space, but also to bring them back from the latter. Recently, the novice company was able to raise five million dollars in a few days thanks to the support of various investors.

If the idea of ​​these space launchers already exists on the side of the United States where the company Virgin Orbit is based, which specializes in launching small satellites from the sky, Dark will be a precursor in Europe. The space ambitions of the French start-up are great, especially during the space race in which the richest personalities on the planet are engaged. Although he has temporarily left the mystery behind the origin of his start-up’s name, Clyde Laheyne, co-founder of Dark, answered our questions about his innovative project.

Having air-dropped rockets means we are able to take advantage of the planet’s most current mega infrastructure at airports.

What is Dark?

Dark is a space transport company, and like any such company, its wealth is its distribution network. We have two particularities: we use air-drops and multi-mission launchers. Having air-dropped rockets means we are able to take advantage of the planet’s most current mega infrastructure at airports. This allows us to tackle the entire hidden supply chain of space launches from Europe today. Launches are in the Amazon, the Arctic Circle or in Russia at the present time. Regarding the multi-mission side, it should be noted that large launchers have historically operated with minimal program costs compared to launch costs. Here comes Space X. Elon Musk was able to split the launch costs by spreading them out among several players.

How do you try to stand up?

As far as our concern is concerned, we have a very high approach in terms of the system. We thought that since we were selling the service, we needed to find a way to amortize program costs. Therefore, we are now making a launcher that attacks certain markets, which means that putting the payload in orbit is only part of our activities. There are many things that are very useful in this method: first, we orbit and deorbit. We will also look for objects in space. Second, we can survive more economically because the people we hire are able to do a variety of activities. Third, more importantly, it allows us to be resilient to any changes in the satellite market.

We must succeed in finding an industrial way today that allows the entire French and European industrial satellite ecosystem to build and create something as virtuous as SpaceX in the United States.

The ability to send small satellites when we want, how we want, and at a cheap cost helps governments, and the development of the industry. We must succeed in finding an industrial way today that allows the entire French and European industrial satellite ecosystem to build and create something as virtuous as SpaceX in the United States. The problem in France and in Europe is that we are captivated by the launch windows and choice of launchers, as many are leaving the Amazon or Arctic Circle. Darkness is important because we are moving from geo-stationary above-ground activities with massive satellites over long distances, to smaller satellites being launched in greater numbers to create constellations of satellites. The need to constantly renew and put new installations in the space clearly qualifies.

How did you come up with the idea for Dark?

The idea for Dark came from their respective backgrounds with Guillaume Orvain. We met at MBDA Missil Systems. We were missile operators there and had a great career with very good development that allowed us to move towards technical subjects with very high potential. At a certain point, we wanted to free ourselves from large manufacturers with a more exciting technical project. So we decided to create our own technical project, and there we became entrepreneurs. Neither Guillaume nor I were entrepreneurs at heart, we were lucky to meet our current investors (Eurazeo, Frst and Kima Ventures) because we were able to raise five million dollars in a few days. We started 6 months ago when we were just two, we are 12 now and have offices in Paris. We will definitely open branches on every continent.

The founders of Dark, Clyde Laheyne and Guillaume Orvain

How do you see the use of this technology?

In our eyes, a good transportation company is judged by the wealth of its distribution network. If in France we continue to use Post rather than UPS, it is for a reason, Post office distribution remains better. Our vision is that by the end of the decade we will be a fully distributed space transportation company that not only puts satellites into orbit but also captures them. One of the critical capabilities that the planet lacks in the future is space management, not just filling it. There is a lot of space in the galaxy, but the truth is that only a small part of it we occupy is located right above us. In terms of distance from Earth, the ISS is just a Paris-Clermont Ferrand away from us (400km). Satellites are typically placed between 500 and 800km above the planet. When we talk about clutter in space, it just means that everything is crowded in one place and the location of objects in space is less accurate. So there are fears of chain collisions.

By 2040, we want to make space and planetary transportation in a fully democratic and integrated way with human activity.

So it’s a challenge for us to have the ability to remove debris or satellites. By 2030, we want to be the most widely distributed international capacity for orbiting and orbiting. Then, by 2040, we want to perform space and planetary transportation in a fully democratic way and integrated into human activity. The goal is to allow the planet to manage 100% of its activity in space.

Are you a French team or rather an international?

We are a group of 12. We keep it as small as possible at this time. We rely heavily on the skills of the people we recruit, who all have over 5 or 10 years of experience. We favor individual “stars” in their fields. By the end of the year, we have usually passed a major milestone in the initial design stage. We will get into development and open 50 or 60 positions that we will try to fill again with “stars” in ESA (European Space Agency), in Ariane, in CNES (National Center for Space Studies), in American or Indian. companies.

We realize that if we really want the best in the world, we need to go international

We are an international company, we have done more than half of our recruitment overseas. Among the countries represented are the United States, Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany, at present. We quickly felt it needed to be international. We realize that if we really want the best in the world, we have to go international because France occupies this particular segment of rockets that still run using solid propellants. From a technological point of view, we need people who have experienced recent rocket developments, while France has developed two over the past 40 years.

Is there an additional amount of French know-how in this sector?

There is indeed a real added value of French know-how in many aspects. France has significant scientific expertise regarding launchers. Industrial skills can only be acquired if there is already an industry similar to the one we seek to develop. To find profiles that might interest us, companies making multi-mission air-drop launchers need to exist. These multi-mission launchers do not yet exist, and only Virgin Orbit has made air-drop launchers, where the best profiles can be found. We have a very technical architecture specific to our product. Anyone can build the components we use, but no one has assembled them together.

Dark Space Enterprise Rocket

What are the different challenges of launching such a project, especially in Europe?

Many people often make the mistake of thinking that pitchers are political subjects. I think there was a kind of misunderstanding about how to create a sovereign or autonomous capacity for a country or an institution. Dark’s commitment to the future is supposed to be a business. Our commitment to France and European countries is to be able to make launches that are competitive with Space X prices from the territory, destroying their current supply chain. That is our only goal. All the work of lobbying institutions and politicians is useless because forcing to lobby means having a shell in what is being tried to be done. There is a very antagonistic side to trying to find political arrangements whereas when a business is independent, divisive and profitable, all investors logically jump on it. So we’re committed to one commitment we need to make: to create something powerful and competitive in Space X for everyone.

What makes you different from American players in this field?

We are the only player building the rocket that is not only capable of picking up debris but the economic sustainability does not depend solely on the satellite market.

How far do you set yourself in the future?

The dark will build on the long-awaited technologies in the aeronautical defense field (integration of space traffic, cryogenics of fuels, reuse of stages, removal of debris, etc.). We have this project to create the spaceship of 2040.

Do you believe in expatriation in space?

I am an optimist and an idealist with a hint of physical skepticism. Now, I find it hard to show kindness for these types of people. But I think we have to trust the next generations, we don’t yet know the best applications in space. On the other hand, we can take the lead and that’s what Dark does.

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