French space startup raises $4.1 million to develop smallsat electric thruster technology, software

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WARSAW, Poland — French space startup Exotrail has secured $4.1 million in funding to develop its electric thruster technology and software for smallsats.

David Henri, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews that the money was mostly raised from venture capital, combined with some public funding and bond conversion.

The financing round was organized by European venture capital firm 360 Capital Partners, accompanied by Irdi Soridec Gestion, Bpifrance, and a number of angel investors. Technology transfer company SATT Paris-Saclay also took part in the round through an authorized conversion of claims process.

Based near Paris, Exotrail specializes in developing electric propulsion technology for smallsats. The ExoMG-nano propulsion system is intended for platforms fitted with a weight of between 10 kilograms and 20 kilograms, while the ExoMG-micro is developed for satellites of up to 100 kilograms, according to data from the company. Exotrail says that, by using Hall Effect technology, it is able to provide a considerably higher thrust than that of competitive solutions while maintaining high-energy efficiency.

“Our propulsion is enabled with a thrust load that is three to six times higher than that of the competing solutions. Owing to this, smallsats fitted with our propulsion will be able to make the same maneuvers in much less time. The competing solutions would need eight to 10 months to perform what our propulsion can do within just a few months,” Henri said. “We want to be a market leader in this segment, and our value proposal for customers relies on the fact that our solution will allow them to gain revenue much faster within a shorter period of time.”

As part of its development plans, the company’s chief executive said that Exotrail aims to demonstrate their technology in space in late 2019.

Development strategy

“We have three milestones ahead of us. We want to demonstrate our technology with a flight, start deliveries of our product in late 2019 or early 2020, and pursue the development of electric space propulsion software to expand our product range,” Henri said.

With the planned expansion in mind, Exotrail has launched its second office in Toulouse, France. Two engineers there are already working on developing software solutions, with a third employee slated to join the branch this month. The Toulouse branch will also benefit from the part-time support of other team members.

The French company expects that, in the near future, most of the market for smallsats will come from Earth observation and telecommunications. Exotrail has commercial relationships with multiple European smallsat integrator and  is in talks with U.S. and Asian companies, according to its chief executive.

“Our first commercial target is in Europe. However, given how the market is developing, we see that our final users will be mostly based in the U.S. But at integration level, many companies are active in Europe which is good for companies such as ours,” Henri said.