Spain’s GMV takes a stake in PLD Space’s reusable rocket quest

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WASHINGTON — Spanish rocket startup PLD Space said Jan. 9 that it has raised the money it needs to continue development of its Arion 1 reusable suborbital launch vehicle thanks to a $7.1 million investment round lead by satellite ground systems provider GMV of Madrid, Spain.

Arion 1 is a kerosene-fueled, single-stage rocket designed to use a combination of parachute and propulsion to land after lofting its 200-kilogram payload into a 250-kilometer suborbital trajectory. PLD is positioning the Arion 1 as both a commercial suborbital launcher and technology demonstrator for Arion 2, a three-stage smallsat launcher designed to haul up to 150 kilograms to low Earth orbits between 400 and 1,200-kilometers.

The first launch of Arion 1 is planned for 2018 with Arion 2 to follow in 2020. PLD Space plans to charge 30,000-35,000 per kilogram for orbital launches, or roughly $4.75 million to $5.5 million per launch.

GMV was the single largest investor in PLD Space’s latest financing round, contributing about 3 million euros ($3.2 million) of the 6.7 million euros the company raised in Series A1 equity. A combination of public and private investors, including the European Commission, Spain’s Technological and Industrial Development Centre, CDTI, and Spain’s Startup Co-Investment Fund, ENISA, provided the remaining 3.7 million euros, PLD Space Co-founder and Chief Executive Raul Torres told SpaceNews. PLD Space will use the investment to “begin the complete development of ARION 1 and all the facilities required for its manufacture, integration, testing and launch,” according to its press release.

GMV’s chief executive, Jesús B. Serrano, will be given a seat on PLD Space’s board of directors. Torres said GMV’s stake in the company will be less than 15 percent, but declined to give a specific number.

GMV’s primary space business is supplying ground control systems for commercial telecommunications satellites and European institutional projects. But the company — whose 2015 revenue topped 125 million euro — has also been involved in launcher programs, including Arianespace’s Vega small satellite launcher and the European Space Agency’s IXV experimental reentry vehicle. In addition to taking a stake in PLD Space, GMV will develop the avionics subsystems for Arion 1 and Arion 2.

Founded in 2011, PLD Space closed a roughly $1.6 million investment round in 2013, and last year gained $1.56 million through Spain’s Tecnología Española de Propulsión Reutilizable Espacial para Lanzadores, or TEPREL program, plus about $800,000 through the European Space Agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program.

PLD Space plans to relocate this year from the Universidad Miguel Hernández’s Science Park to a new plant in Elche, a city on Spain’s southeastern coast. PLD Space also plans to set up new engine testbeds about three hours away at the general aviation Teruel Airport where the company currently does its propulsion testing.

The maiden flight of Arion 1 will take place at at El Arenosillo, a launch site in southwestern Spain for sounding rockets and high-altitude balloons. GMV will support PLD Space with integration, qualification and launch-support operations for both trial and commercial flights.