PLD Space raises additional $10 million for reusable smallsat launchers

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WASHINGTON — Spanish startup PLD Space raised 9 million euros ($10.6 million) last month from public and private investors to develop a pair of reusable launch vehicles.

PLD Space said June 11 that the funding provides the momentum needed to start building the first two Arion 1 suborbital rockets, designed to carry up to 100 kilograms each, for launches in the second half of 2019.

Private investors count for 7.1 million euros of the most recent round, with the remaining 1.9 million euros coming from public sources.

Since forming in 2011, PLD Space has raised a total of 18 million euros, CEO Raul Torres told SpaceNews by email.

PLD Space is developing the suborbital Arion 1 and an orbital vehicle called Arion 2. Torres said the first Arion 1 flight “will only include internal payloads for extra sensing” of the vehicle. The second flight will carry customer payloads for microgravity research, provided the test flight is successful.

The larger Arion 2 vehicle, originally envisioned as a 150-kilogram launcher for low Earth orbit missions, is under a redesign after the European Space Agency selected it as part of the Future Launchers Preparatory Program in February. Torres said PLD Space hopes to make the new vehicle configuration public in September.

PLD Space’s new investors include Spanish aeronautical company Aciturri and Madrid-based JME Venture Capital. Previous investor GMV and partner Alzis Group also participated in the round.

Over the past 18 months, PLD Space has grown from six people to 40 people, the company said.

PLD Space’s first launches will take place at a test range in Huelva, Spain, called El Arenosillo that is owned by Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology. The company also plans to expand its propulsion facilities at the Teruel Airport to accommodate more engine tests and a test bench for full rocket stages.

Arion 1 is a single-stage liquid propulsion rocket designed to offer up to four minutes of microgravity. The vehicle includes two parachutes to slow its descent to a maximum of 10 meters per second, following which a boat would recover the vehicle out of the ocean.

Torres said the vehicle is being designed to endure the shock of impacting the water. The single liquid-oxygen-and-kerosene Teprel-1B engine has extra equipment to make it waterproof, he said.

In a statement, Torres said PLD Space has begun purchasing materials for the first two Arion 1s as well as for construction of more than eight rocket engines.

“In addition, I am proud to say that everything is being developed in Spain: Design, Manufacturing, Integration, Qualification, and the future Launch, which increases Spain’s competitiveness and brings added value to our national aerospace industry, which is strategically important at international level,” he said.

PLD Space’s rockets are appreciably smaller than those operated by European launch consortium Arianespace. The Arion 2, at least as originally envisioned, would launch about a tenth the payload of Vega, Arianespace’s smallest launcher.

JME Venture Capital Principal Lourdes Álvarez de Toledo said her firm believes PLD Space “will be the first private European company capable of launching a small rocket into space.”

“The small satellite launch sector is growing by leaps and bounds and currently there are no providers in the European market to meet the growing demand,” she said. “We are strongly committed to PLD Space because it has the team, the partners, and the institutional support to achieve this.”

Other European companies are developing small launch vehicles, including fellow Spanish companies Zero2infinity and Celestia Aerospace. The European Space Agency in February awarded five study contracts to European industry for potential smallsat launchers, of which the pan-European ArianeGroup, Italy’s European Launch Vehicle, Portugal’s Deimos and Germany’s MT Aerospace were recipients in addition to PLD Space.