COLORADO SPRINGS — Megaconstellation startup E-Space is preparing to deploy the first of potentially hundreds of thousands of satellites on a Rocket Lab mission slated for no earlier than April 19.

Three E-space prototypes are part of the 34 payloads that Rocket Lab said April 5 are on the upcoming mission, including satellites for Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, Unseenlabs and Swarm Technologies.

Rocket Lab will also attempt a mid-air helicopter capture of its Electron launch vehicle for the first time after the flight. The launch is set to commence within a 14-day window starting on April 19 and represents a major step in Rocket Lab’s plans to make the rocket reusable.

For E-Space, its prototypes will “validate and demonstrate our new technologies around guidance and control systems,” founder Greg Wyler said in an interview at the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

These systems have been designed to support satellites that have significantly smaller cross-sections than other low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband constellations, according to Wyler. 

He declined to discuss dimensions but said smaller satellites are a key part of E-Space’s goal to develop a sustainable megaconstellation. Their size reduces the potential for collisions and the debris created if there is an impact.

Despite having Rwanda-backed spectrum filings for 300,000 satellites, Wyler says E-Space will ultimately have a net positive impact on the space environment. In addition to providing broadband services, its spacecraft will one day be able to capture and de-orbit debris too small to track.

By December, Wyler said the venture plans to deploy “less than 10 satellites” that will be closer to its final design.

“We’re going to be demonstrating other features in December of more of a production unit,” he said, “and if the production units meet our goals, then we’ll go into serial production in 2023.”

However, a debris de-orbit capability the venture has yet to disclose will not be part of the satellites it is planning to launch this year.

“The ability to capture and de-orbit these debris between one and 10 centimeters is something that is part of our goal, it’s something we’re working on, we think we’ll get there — it’s not a necessity for our system,” he said.

According to Wyler, the system is also designed to continue operating in “a high-debris environment” that would follow a Kessler Syndrome event, where in-orbit collisions produce debris that leads to more collisions. 

“I’m assuming the worst, and we’re designing a system that will function in that environment,” he added.

Growing the business

E-Space announced $50 million in seed funding in February that Wyler said funds the startup up to serial satellite production next year. 

The startup has grown its team to “close to 50” employees spread across France, Boston, Washington, and California, he said, and plans to reach around 200 by the end of 2023 to help the company ramp up.

Wyler also founded megaconstellation startup OneWeb, and plans to leverage the experience gained in setting up a high-volume facility in Florida for the company that was designed to produce up to two satellites a day.

“Once we get our satellites up, and they function and do what we hope they do, then I don’t think the funding will be a challenge,” Wyler added.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...