A conversation with David Henri, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Office at Exotrail, a company that develops electric propulsion systems and software
for the smallsat market.
Mr. Henri, what services and products does your company provide to
David Henri (DH)
Our core product is a miniaturized propulsion solution for smallsats. Using Hall Effect Technology, we are able to provide a dramatically higher thrust than competing products, whilst maintaining a high fuel efficiency. Our range of thrusters and our propulsion operation and design software solutions will help build the space missions of tomorrow.
What services and products does your company provide to the industry?
Exotrail is a highly innovative SME dedicated to providing agility solutions for small satellites’ constellations. The company’s mission is to carry smallsats from one orbit to another using electric propulsion systems and mission optimization software. This allows operators to use less precise but significantly more economical rockets while still being able to quickly reach their destination thanks to our technology.
We currently provide two products : ExoMG™, a family of fully integrated propulsion systems using Hall Effect Technology for 10-200kg satellites, and ExoOPS™, a cloud-based mission design, optimization and operation software.
What do you believe are the most significant challenges that need to be addressed within the satellite and related industries?
There are two main challenges for me, on the constellation market and on the launch market… and they are correlated.
On the constellation side, people will stop launching demonstrators and will start launching constellations. And with these comes an evolution of requirements. When launching a demonstrator, what matters is how fast you can get it into orbit. You are ready to trade launch cost and launch precision if you can launch quicker.
When you deploy a constellation, you can’t really trade on precision and cost – you need to maintain your constellation geometry, and you need to minimize your capital expenditure, so launch costs.
Will all these business cases be sustainable ? A demonstrator and a constellation have two different kind of objectives – do they need the same type of hardware in the satellites? I think this needs to be addressed.
On the launcher side, now you see a drop in launch costs from large rideshare launchers — we have all seen the announcement made by SpaceX of a $5k/kg. launch cost. This means constellation operators will be able to launch constellation at an acceptable cost.
But what about precision? You don’t necessarily go where you want with these kind of launchers. You need deployment capabilities. And we believe this where we come in! Electric propulsion is the way to launch precisely and cheaply small satellites on orbit – potentially dividing launch costs by a factor of 10. If this is done in an automated way —– with our ExoOPS software, for instance.
What is your company presenting at this major event?
We usually showcase our propulsion system in a very small vacuum chamber, which tends to attract many, many people in front of our booth! We can’t do it this time as our small vacuum chamber we use is under maintenance. But we will certainly showcase our mission software. I also was involved in a panel on Wednesday at the show on how to select the correct propulsion system for a constellation — five people from Exotrail were at the event.
What may we expect your company to reveal over the next few months?
Quite a bit. Our mission design software will be fully available in January, and we will communicate quite a lot on that. Business development has been accelerated a lot in the past few months – we like to remain a bit quiet, and we can’t always disclosed customers’ names, but perhaps we’ll reveal things beginning of next year. Our first demonstrator will also fly in space, for a launch in February probably. Altogether quite a lot will happen in the coming months!
What will Space Tech Expo be in five years?
I’ll be honest — I don’t have an answer and I think no one does. However, perhaps some leads will come to light. I am excepting a consolidation of constellation projects. I am excepting that only a few dedicated launchers will be there,and that the bulk of constellation launches will happen through rideshares and large rockets, with prices going down.
I think nearly all the constellations will use on-board propulsion – they certainly will be deployed through third-party propulsion-equipped vehicles. I think the consolidation will also happen in the rest of the value chain. Perhaps : fewer booths, but much bigger booths? We will see — and I am looking forward to it!