Young shoots of French space spread their wings

More and more French businessmen are trying to venture into space, and the State is ready to support this industry.

In the long run, the space was the preserve of the State. Then, in the 2000s, with the success of SpaceX, it began to become a viable market for private companies. They were, however, until recently, largely powerful American companies, taking advantage of their links to NASA. But in recent years, an ecosystem of young space shoots has begun to emerge in France.

Witness, last February, the initiative launched by Bruno Le Maire to build the French space ecosystem. The Minister of Economy, Finance and Recovery has entrusted seven French start-ups with the mission of consulting, representing and developing an ecosystem of start-ups and emerging players in the French space sector. “We will have SpaceX in 2026”, the minister was even excited in December, on a trip to the Vernon site where the Ariane rocket engines were being tested.

“Opening up space in a market economy is more and more anchored in people’s minds. There’s a whole new generation of start-ups launching, a whole ecosystem that’s being adjusted”, he said for his part, enthusiastic, but more rational, Jean-Luc Maria, co-founder and CEO of Exotrail, one of seven young shoots chosen by Bruno Le Maire.

A minivan for satellites

Launched in 2017, Exotrail aims to be a true logistics provider for the galaxy industry, with a complete formula intended for companies wishing to put a fleet of small satellites into orbit. Thus, it designs a software solution that makes it possible to define in advance the needs of satellites according to the target commercial purpose: how many devices will be used to obtain a given image resolution, in what area and altitude will place them around the world, how many rockets will be needed to place them in orbit, etc.

Then, in addition to offering an individual propulsion system for satellites in space, the start-up also produces a SpaceVan, a type of space minibus that aims to allow a small group of satellites to return to their exact position after being placed in orbit by a launch vehicle. “This is the last brick that has fully automated the management of a constellation of satellites”, summarizes Jean-Luc Maria. In early April, Exotrail announced that its SpaceVan would launch into orbit in 2023 aboard a SpaceX rocket.

Solar wings and portable mini-ecosystems

In 2015, when Jean-Luc Maria started working on what would become Exotrail, his counterparts could be counted on the finger of one hand. But since then, they have multiplied at full speed. “Right now, a start-up is created every week in the space sector in France”, said Barbara Belvisi, founder and director of Interstellar Labs. This startup makes domes with their own ecosystem, with control over light, temperature, CO2, humidity, as well as water recycling, a regenerative approach to growing plants in n any environment, be it in the desert, in Antarctica, in space or on Mars.

We should also mention Gama, who recently raised two million euros from the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), Bpifrance and private entrepreneurs for his system aimed at making spacecraft move into space with the help of a sail using sunlight as an energy source. O Kineis, the only start-up in the French space industry to have so far held a mega-fundraiser.

In 2020, the start-up raised 100 million euros from several public and private investors to fund its project for satellite constellations dedicated to the Internet of Things. “From transportation to energy, including logistics and maritime freight, we have identified several markets where there is a strong need to use connected objects outside the areas covered by terrestrial networks, i.e., approximately “85% of the world’s surface. It requires a sovereignty. And special constellations, which we decided to put in place”, said Juliette Reitzer, communications manager of the young shoot.

An ecosystem in the process of being structured

Admittedly, the French ecosystem does not yet have any unicorns, and the ability to find financing remains lower than in the United States. After trying, in vain, to arouse the interest of space players and investors in France and Europe, Barbara Belvisi ended her start-up in Los Angeles, which allowed her to get the necessary springboard to then entered France. “I went back with the former people of NASA and SpaceX, and the project was immediately taken seriously, I contacted Cnes and things expedited”, the entrepreneur summarizes. . If its venue is now located in Ivry-sur-Seine, its team is Franco-American and it remains a foothold in the United States: so it’s from a café in Los Angeles that speaks to us.

However, things are changing. The French ecosystem will take shape, and initiatives are beginning to emerge to finance this emerging industry, such as CosmiCapital, or Expansion, a space -focused investment fund born recently from the joint efforts of Audacia, funded by Charles Beigbeder, and Starbust, an expert galaxy accelerator, launched in Paris by François Chopard in 2012 and has branches around the world.

Until eternity and beyond

If America’s private space industry has experienced such growth, it is not only thanks to Silicon Valley fundraisers, but also and above all thanks to NASA’s public order, which earlier decided that develop synergies with innovative private players. “Nasa has long understood that the development of new technologies in space, the creation of new orbital stations or even the organization of a trip to Mars can only be done through collaboration between the public and private. They started the this approach since 2005, along with the COTS program, which launched SpaceX.So they made the choice to become clients of several private companies, and this has allowed the emergence of an entire industry.It was noticed by Cnes and is now trying to mimic this technique, especially since Philippe Baptiste came to its head ”, analyzes Barbara Belvisi.

The businessman is convinced: with a good strategy, France has all the cards in hand to build a competitive space industry. “The country has a large number of talented engineers, many of whom want to work in this field. It just lacks the support of an agency. Another sign that things are changing: the France 2030 plan provides 1.5 billion euros for space, two-thirds of it for emerging gamers.Enough to provide help to young blond heads tempted by the exploration of the cosmos.

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