Mostly when we talk about commercial space, and space startups, the focus is relatively close to home — stretching to orbit, and maybe the Moon. But Seattle-based startup Xplore wants to extend the privatization of space further still, through the development of spacecraft and a platform designed for commercial missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, extra-orbital asteroids and beyond.
Xplore is building spacecraft capable of carrying small payloads (between roughly 70-150 lbs) to deep space destinations. These could include sensors, including optical cameras, tools for measuring temperature and other space weather conditions, hyperspectral imaging tools, or even other, smaller spacecraft on behalf of a range of commercial clients. The company began operations in 2017, co-founded by Lisa Rich and Jeff Rich (who also founded and manage VC firm Hemisphere Ventures) and plans to fly its first spacecraft, destined for the Moon, beginning in 2021.
Nanoracks is a commercial space company with an established history of developing and deploying commercial spacecraft, including small satellites launched from the International Space Station (ISS), with payloads from customers including the European Space Agency, NASA, the German Space Agency and many more. In 2016, Nanoracks opened the first commercial testing platform, installed on the outside of the ISS to allow private companies to run experiments in microgravity and in space-based radiation exposure. More recently, it announced that it would be launching technology to demonstrate in-space structural metal cutting for the first time — tech that could one day open up big opportunities in re-using discarded spacecraft for in-space reuse and manufacturing.
Xplore’s spacecraft can hold multiple payloads, and Nanoracks will be able to use their experience to help prepare and integrate the cargo of Xplore’s clients, making it possible to launch more rapidly and more efficiently with less lead time required.
Xplore also plans to fly Earth orbital missions, focusing on rapid response capabilities and handling everything for customers in terms of mission parameters, spacecraft and operations — everything beyond the payload design, basically. With more launch providers and capacity coming online, there’s definitely a growing need for mission logistics and payload launch services — and extra-orbital destinations make Xplore’s an interesting offering that could pave the way for different kinds of businesses and commercial research.