SAN FRANCISCO — Mikhail Kokorich was preparing to study aerospace engineering in Moscow when the collapse of the Soviet Union forced an end to his plans.
“At the time, life in Moscow was very difficult,” Kokorich said. “I came from a pretty poor family. We didn’t have money for me to stay in Moscow.”
Instead, Kokorich decided to return to Siberia and focus on nuclear physics, a discipline he could study close to home.
More than two decades later, Kokorich is once again engrossed in engineering as founder and president of Dauria Aerospace, Russia’s first 100 percent privately owned and operated satellite manufacturing company. With offices in Munich; Skolkovo, Russia; and Mountain View, Calif., Dauria plans to deploy a fleet of small satellites to offer global Earth observation and communications services.
“We see great potential to create a company like a new Lockheed Martin or a new Boeing,” Kokorich said. “This will be an international company with Russian roots that will serve as a bridge between the United States and Russia. Space is one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States is very strong.”
Kokorich’s business success is well known in Russia, where he established a home products retail chain and led the restructuring of a major consumer electronics vendor. That track record has helped Dauria attract investors.
Dauria Aerospace at a Glance
Founded: April 2012
Top Official: Mikhail Kokorich, founder and president
Employees: More than 100
Locations: Skolkovo, Russia; Munich; Mountain View, Calif.
Mission: To develop and manufacture a new generation of low-cost, small satellites.
Initial funding for the enterprise came from Kokorich and his co-founders, including Manfred Krischke, former founder and managing director of Germany’s Earth imaging pioneer RapidEye. In October, Dauria announced its first outside investment: $20 million from I2BF Global Ventures. Although New York-based I2BF was established in 2007 to focus on clean technology and related disciplines, its mandate has expanded in recent years to provide funding for businesses, including some in the former Soviet Union, seeking to improve resource utilization.
“Dauria was focused on a lot of the same products in that sector we were focusing on — microtechnology, cubesats — but what set Dauria apart was their unique approach in the applications space,” said Ilya Golubovich, I2BF Global Ventures founding partner.
Specifically, Golubovich was impressed by plans for a Dauria spinoff, CloudEO, a cloud-based platform developed and led by Krischke. CloudEO is designed to offer a central hub where satellite imagery can be stored and accessed by applications developers, geospatial data users and service providers. “It becomes a kind of apps store for all things satellite imaging,” Golubovich said.
I2BF also sees strong value in Dauria’s international organization. “Frankly, I think they’re the only true space startup that is operating in Russia and trying to draw talent from all the large government institutions that have historically dominated that sector in this country,” Golubovich said. “That seemed pretty exciting to us, seeing a startup tap into the unique expertise of NASA, the European Space Agency and also from Roscosmos and its related institutions.”
Dauria established its corporate headquarters in Munich and satellite development centers in Skolkovo, a high-technology business area on the outskirts of Moscow, and NASA Ames Research Park in Mountain View, Calif.
“There’s a geographic strategy behind this company,” said Richard David, chief executive of NewSpace Global, an information services company. “Each one of the locations has potential benefits: to reach markets, technology, launch services, engineers, investors.”
Having a footprint in Russia offers the firm access to Russian technology as well as engineers and technologists whose salaries are approximately one-third as high as those of U.S. engineers and technologists. In addition, the company has access to Russian funding sources and attractive pricing agreements for space launch services, Kokorich said. Dauria forged Russia’s first private partnership agreement with Roscosmos and Lavochkin, manufacturer of the Fregat upper stage, Kokorich said.
All those elements are designed to help Dauria keep costs low for its small satellites, which are expected to weigh between 10 and 100 kilograms, Kokorich said. In addition, Dauria has formed a partnership with Samsung Electronics to draw on the firm’s commercial communications expertise to support its efforts to build low-cost small satellites and associated ground support infrastructure.
Dauria and Samsung announced plans in October to jointly develop Russia’s first private satellite, Dauria Experimental (DX)-1, which is expected to cost approximately $3 million and will test the use of commercial communications equipment, technology and software to create a generation of low-cost, standardized, small satellites.
Samsung plans to equip Dauria’s satellite control center with high-definition televisions, laptop computers and printers.
While serving as a technology demonstration, the DX-1 spacecraft also is designed to perform an operational role. It will be the first in a constellation of planned satellites to provide identification and navigation assistance for ocean ships and river vessels, Kokorich said. In December, Dauria announced an agreement with Russia’s Transport Ministry and Federal Agency of Maritime and River Transportation to launch three small satellites to provide space-based monitoring for ocean ships and river vessels.
Dauria’s website advertises four satellite designs: Sagitta, a spacecraft equipped for remote asset monitoring and control; Perseus, a moderate-resolution Earth imaging spacecraft designed to operate in a constellation; Pyxis, a polar-broadband communications satellite; and Auriga, an Earth observation craft designed to offer multispectral imagery for resource monitoring, precision agriculture and other change-detection applications.
Most of the satellites Dauria is scheduled to launch in 2014 weigh slightly more than 10 kilograms, including two small satellites scheduled to fly on a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket in April and the DX-1 spacecraft slated for launch onboard the Russian Soyuz/Fregat rocket expected to carry Russia’s Meteor-M2 weather satellite into orbit. The Soyuz/Fregat flight, originally scheduled for December, has encountered delays due to issues with the primary payload. In 2014, Dauria also plans to launch two small satellites carrying solar sail experiments into orbit for the Planetary Society, a Pasadena, Calif.-based advocacy group.
Attracting U.S. and European customers is an important element of Dauria’s business plan because Russian demand for space-based applications comprises a tiny fraction of the global market.
“We definitely do not work only with Russian customers,” Kokorich said. “In fact, we have as much activity in the United States as we have in Russia, and many projects originate in the United States.”