WASHINGTON — German startup Vyoma said June 20 it has raised 8.5 million euros ($9.3 million) to develop space debris-monitoring satellites.

French aerospace giant Safran, which will help develop the constellation, participated in the startup’s extended seed round through its venture capital arm alongside early-stage investors Happiness Capital of Hong Kong, Germany-based Atlantic Labs, and Portugal-based Faber Ventures.

The three-year-old venture has now raised more than 10 million euros for a constellation of 12 satellites that it plans to start launching next year, Vyoma CEO and co-founder Stefan Frey told SpaceNews.

He said Vyoma will announce a manufacturer for its first two microsatellites in the next few weeks, which would be launched together or via separate missions around the end of 2024, depending on the launch provider it picks.

The two pilot satellites would be designed to focus on tracking and cataloging objects larger than 30 centimeters in low Earth orbit (LEO). They would supplement the space situational awareness (SSA) data Vyoma already offers through third-party networks of ground-based sensors.

Under clear atmospheric conditions, Vyoma’s best-performing ground telescopes are currently capable of observing LEO objects down to around five to seven centimeters — depending on their position — via dedicated target tracking.

Ultimately, the startup plans to be able to track so-far untrackable objects as small as one centimeter with a network of space-based cameras that, unlike ground-based telescopes, are unaffected by weather.

According to Vyoma, the 10 additional satellites it plans to deploy in the 18 months following its first launch would also be capable of keeping tabs on objects in space under a semi-autonomous surveillance mode. 

Safran’s electronics and defense subsidiary, which is investigating the feasibility of adding radiofrequency sensors and laser rangefinders to improve Vyoma’s capabilities, is sharing complementary SSA data as part of its investment. 

Safran Reosc, the company’s optomechanical subsidiary, is also looking into developing an optical instrument for detecting objects smaller than two centimeters while in surveillance mode.

The European Space Agency estimates there are around one million objects between one and 10 centimeters in space, which despite their size have the energy to cause unrepairable damage if they collide with satellites or other spacecraft.

Investors pile into space-based SSA solutions

Three other early-stage companies have announced investments so far this year to develop space-based businesses promising to improve SSA for increasingly congested orbits. 

On the same day as Vyoma’s announcement, Indian startup Digantara said it had raised $10 million in a Series A round led by venture fund Peak XV Partners to develop small satellites with electro-optical sensors to collect SSA data.

Noblis, a nonprofit organization that provides science, technology, and strategy services to the U.S. government, said June 14 its venture arm had made an undisclosed strategic investment in Alexandria, Virginia-based space-tracking startup Scout Space.

In early January, Canada’s NorthStar Earth and Space announced it had raised $35 million in a Series C funding round led by private equity firm Cartesian Capital for its proposed constellation.

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...