Andrey Maximov, the co-founder of Precious Payload – a start-up that helps with the planning and execution of satellite missions by taking care of mission and supply chain management – wants Abu Dhabi to become a logistics and service centre for the space industry.
“I'm in talks with investors here in the UAE and also in the European Union, and I'm looking to raise another $5 million to continue growing our footprint in Abu Dhabi,” he told The National on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai.
“I'm talking now to the best engineers from SpaceX, from Blue Origin, from OHB in Germany and from the European Union to relocate to Abu Dhabi. And you know what? They like it here because the weather is good.”
The UAE, he said, provides fertile ground for space-focused start-ups.
“If you stay in the United States or in the UK, you'll be like small fish in pretty huge ponds and it's not easy to cut through the noise,” he said. “But here, the amount of exposure you get – it really moves the needle for the companies.”
Precious Payload, which set up shop in Abu Dhabi at Hub71 in 2020 with funding from Mubadala Ventures and Silicon Valley investors such as Tim Draper, this week opened up its launch-booking tool to the public in an effort to help would-be satellite operators connect with launch companies and find upcoming flights.
Those interested in sending a satellite into space can outline a mission and get a quote straight from a launch operator.
To keep costs down and waiting times to a minimum, Precious Payload uses its expertise in the industry to help its clients deal with a complex web of regulators governing space launches around the world.
Mr Maximov said the company first created the launch-booking software for internal use.
“Now we want to share it with the public so anyone can use and leverage the infrastructure behind the small satellite industry,” he said.
“We believe that with our software, entrepreneurs can start a space company – even from their dorm room.”
In recent years, reusable rockets have begun to dramatically reduce the cost of getting a payload into orbit.
During its operational lifetime, Nasa’s space shuttle could carry a payload of 27,500 kilograms into orbit at a cost of about $1.5 billion, or $54,000 per kilogram.
With a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which are now used routinely to send astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, the cost has come down to about $2,720 per kilogram.
Small, affordable satellites – usually weighing less than 600kg and sometimes called cubesats or smallsats – have also revolutionised the commercial space sector in recent years.
In 2020, 1,202 smallsats reached space, accounting for almost half of the smaller satellites to have launched since 2010, according to data from BryceTech, a US analytics and engineering firm.
In the first quarter of 2021 alone, about 720 spacecraft flew to space on board rockets from around the world – mostly smallsats.
While ride-share missions using reusable rockets to carry dozens of satellites into orbit have become almost routine, getting them there is a significant challenge even for established national space companies.
South Korea’s first domestically developed space rocket failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit during a test flight last week.
Mr Maximov said that as many as 40 per cent of small satellite missions “do not achieve the primary mission goal” and effectively end in failure.
On top of that, he said, “more than 65 per cent of those missions get delayed by more than a year and they run over budget by more than a million dollars”.
“Globally that represents up to four billion dollars of lost resources and opportunities.”
Helping the pioneering new space companies behind these missions to fail faster and more cheaply is key to keeping up momentum in a fast-growing sector like commercial space, he said.
“There is a very big risk that the hype will go. It's so easy to lose momentum because right now this hype around the space industry is fuelled by VCs [venture capital companies] and they're not really patient people.”