Virgin to join Polish start-up for nanosatellites

Poland’s space sector rides the astral wave as Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit signs a letter of intent to cooperate with Wrocław-based SatRevolution startup to put nanosatellites in space.

The planned REC constellation will eventually consist of 1,024 nanosatellites could be used for telecommunication, to anticipate natural disasters and to draw precision maps. Virgin Orbit’s deputy business development chairman Stephen Eisele said that the project may have a strong imprint on the industry.

The proposed REC constellation will become a unique offer on the market and will incite a large client interest, Mr Eisele said, adding that Virgin Orbit intends to put the nanosatellites into orbit with the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket system. The details of possible cooperation between SatRevolution and Virgin Orbit, however, are yet to be revealed.

The REC project is to base on the so-called “NanoBus”, which is SatRevolution’s superstructure fitted with subsystems that are indispensable for the proper functioning of nanosatellites in space.

According to the start-up’s head Grzegorz Zwoliński, these solutions will bring about a 100-fold cost reduction with regard to standard large satellites, which dominate in the Earth monitoring sector. “We want to create a cheaper constellation in terms of exploitation, one that consists of smaller devices,” said Mr Zwoliński.

The company, however, needs funding, thus it has launched a crowd-funding campaign with a goal to collect as much as PLN 4.1 mln (EUR 960,000) by the end of 2019. This amount is just the tip of the iceberg as the whole REC project is worth a staggering PLN 70 mln (EUR 16.37 mln).

The start-up’s action plan envisages launching a prototype nanosatellite ScopeSat into Earth’s orbit by 2021. By 2023, there will be 66 of the startup’s nano satellites encircling Earth, each one of them fitted with an optical module that will enable better image refreshment time and image resolution, according to Mr Zwoliński.

The REC constellation will be an Earth-friendly project as the satellites “deorbit after three years in operation, that is, they vanish,” said Mr Zwoliński, adding that SatRevolution is one of a few satellite constellations that does not leave debris in orbit.

According to Entrepreneurship Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz, the REC constellation would bring about “larger sovereignty and independence in terms of Earth monitoring.”