Luxembourg technology aboard SpaceX

On May 25, SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 carrier into a sun-synchronous orbit. It will carry a satellite designed by Luxembourg-based Space Products and Innovation (SPiN), which has developed an adapter designed to simplify satellite design. The idea is to make launching objects into space easier and cheaper.

In any case, this is the direction taken by the space industry, whose participants sought to reduce prices and entry barriers. SpaceX currently charges around $1,200 per pound (€2,470 per kilogram) of payload to send an object into orbit. It may sound expensive, but it’s only a fraction of what NASA used to charge: $30,000 for a book.

But while payload prices have fallen, the cost of building a satellite remains high. This is a problem that SPiN, a Luxembourg-based startup, hopes to solve.

In 2014, future SP&N co-founder and CEO Ran Kedar was building a satellite system as part of his university studies. It took him three months to develop the complex algorithms needed for advanced navigation and control, i.e. software. And another whole year to integrate this software into the satellite.

“We found that there is no operating system for satellites like Windows or Linux,” he explains. “We cannot afford to take risks. We can’t afford to crash Windows in space or the complexity of Linux with its open source parts that we don’t know everything about.

As a result, most companies have designed and continue to develop these systems from scratch, which is a time-consuming and costly process.

Ran Kedar, however, found a video of the US Air Force performing a software-satellite integration in the incredibly short time of four hours in 2008. It inspired him, but it turned out that years of design and gigantic sums of money had gone into just making this connection moment possible.

“We wondered how to achieve the same result without spending a billion dollars and decades testing, qualifying and sending everything into space to make sure it works,” he explains. “That’s where we decided to develop the adapter.”

Ran Kedar and his colleagues moved to Luxembourg because of its space sector. “We believe that Luxembourg has the highest concentration of space startups.”

(Photo: SPiN)

Software without risk

The CEO compares the SPiN adapter to a plug-in converter that you can take with you on foreign trips. Hardware it has more than 25 different ports and eight interfaces. In terms of software, the communication layer of a product “interacts” with the hardware in the same way that an operating system such as Windows interacts with a computer.

“But the difference,” he says, “is that we needed to develop risk-free software. We measure time in microseconds. Any delay of a satellite flying at 27,000 km/h is a big problem.”

Another priority was to create a highly customizable system so that new protocols could be added without updating the software.

SPiN made its first sale in 2018, three years after winning the start-up competition in Bremen. The team participated in Luxembourg’s Fit4Start program in 2021 with the aim of building a satellite using their own adapter both as a “proof of concept” and to demonstrate its capabilities to potential customers.

Dubbed SPiN-1 and assembled in just four hours, the satellite will be launched by a SpaceX rocket on May 25.

Ultimately, according to Ran Kedar, the company’s goal is to allow satellites to be assembled using the parts and technology needed or already available, “and to have a concept with which you can build satellites that are a bit like Lego “.

In about two years, he estimates, the availability of space will become more accessible to businesses.

This article was written
in English, translated and edited by Paperjam in French.