"We are designing our systems to not only prevent space debris generation, but to eventually actively reduce space debris so generations to come will be able to access the power of space," says E-Space founder Greg Wyler. Credit: Keith Johnson for SpaceNews

TAMPA, Fla. — E-Space, the Greg Wyler-led startup behind Rwanda’s September filing for a constellation of 300,000 satellites, said Feb. 7 it has raised $50 million to fund the launch of two sets of test satellites this year.

While E-Space’s “Beta 1” launch is planned for March and serial satellite production is slated for 2023, the company’s Feb. 7 news release provided no details about the upcoming mission.

Wyler did not say how many satellites E-Space plans to deploy this year in an interview with SpaceNews, or how they will get to space, but said they will be built “in-house.”

He said the company also does not plan to outsource serial production, either. 

We’ve so fundamentally changed the design of [satellite architecture] that we’re not really going out with a hardware tender for people to go build things,” said Wyler, who also founded megaconstellation startup OneWeb and the O3b Networks satellite operator now owned by SES.

E-Space aims to develop satellites with “significantly smaller cross-sections” than competitors to make them less vulnerable to collisions — and also at a fraction of what other megaconstellations cost.

In the news release, E-Space says it has “filings in hand for potentially over one hundred thousand secure communication satellites” that it likened to Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing platform that powers much of the internet. 

“E-Space will be a foundational platform to help governments and large companies build space-based applications in a capital light (sic) manner,” the startup said.

E-Space says space sustainability is “at the heart of its architecture,” pledging to build satellites that “minimize the debris from objects they hit and capture debris they contact to prevent further collisions.” 

Wyler declined to put a price tag on E-Space’s constellation, noting that details including exactly how it will “entrain” debris have not been finalized.

E-Space is considering a “variety of solution sets” as part of the startup’s pledge to create “fail safe” satellites that would be “designed to fail into a high-drag configuration where they passively, and quickly, deorbit.”

“You could put out foam, you could put out nets — it turns out that once you start thinking about finding this solution, there’s probably a variety of ways of accomplishing that solution,” Wyler said.

Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems subsidiary said Aug. 23 it had successfully demonstrated the use of a long deployable tether tape to hasten a satellite’s de-orbit.

It is unclear what capabilities E-Space plans to test on the satellites it plans to deploy this year, amid a long-term goal of using its constellation to collect and ultimately de-orbit debris in addition to providing communications.

“I don’t know how close we’ll get to the full objective of that at these early stages,” Wyler said.

Early-stage investor Prime Movers Lab led E-Space’s seed funding round, described in the news release “as the largest seed funding round in space technology history.”

The venture capital firm has previously invested in space companies including in-space logistics startup Momentus and commercial space station developer Axiom.

Wyler said E-Space is funded through “early to mid next year, but I suspect we will have [a funding round] well before that, just based upon the level of interest.”

Rwanda’s government had invested in OneWeb before the satellite operator collapsed into bankruptcy in March 2020. OneWeb emerged from Chapter 11 in November 2020 under new ownership, and has deployed more than half its planned broadband constellation to date. 

A surge in regulatory filings for enormous constellations from Rwanda and others attracted criticism last year from established satellite operators, which called on nations to create rules to curtail such systems.

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...