A transportation and launch container plays an important role in the launch of small satellites. It provides storage, transportation and protection from the impact of the external environment and ensures the required launch parameters. Maxim Cheremisin, head of KosmoLab, spoke about the CubeSat Deployers and Separation & Deployment Systems for light launch vehicles his company offers.
Youth program spins off space corporation
The idea of creating a company to make spacecraft containers emerged at the Committee for Youth Innovative Projects (KIPM) at Russia’s Sergei Korolyov Energia corporation. KIPM is essentially Energia’s youth design bureau. Its Chairman, Senior Researcher Maxim Cheremisin, PhD, in 2017 invited young members of the corporation to work on new promising projects involving the commercialization of space. The team began to put their ideas into practice on weekends and in their spare time.
In 2018, they founded KosmoLab, unofficially considered a spin-off of RSC Energia as well as an experiment on the commercialization of space by small groups of young engineers. Maxim and his colleagues set up the company mostly with their own money: they paid for its registration, and made monthly contributions to support its operation and accounting. In August 2018, the company joined Skolkovo hub as a resident.
“We have long been fascinated by corporate entrepreneurship, a process to generate more revenue quite common in large foreign corporations. We thoroughly studied Siemens’ experience, as well as successful projects in the aerospace industry. During the Soviet era, youth groups were often given the opportunity to work on promising projects as part of special design bureaus. The tactics used today may be slightly different. From the beginning, we created our company to fit Skolkovo’s innovative environment. If not for Skolkovo, we probably wouldn’t exist,” says Maxim Cheremisin. “Our first laboratory prototypes and test benches were developed thanks to micro grants from Skolkovo. The second prototype, a flight model, was also funded by a micro grant. We spent the entire funding, down to the last penny, on developing the product. Skolkovo Foundation provides what is difficult to get if you are part of a big corporation – because potential financial profit is small compared to large projects and the natural red tape involved in such small-scale projects. Still, I am certain that the companies in space industry will soon get on the right track with industry-specific corporate venture funds and investment tools for R&D for a wider range of projects, including small projects by emerging professionals. This will create more opportunities.”
The company currently has five staff members, including four founders and a lead engineer. Subsequently, as the sales and number of contracts grow, the team will expand.
Small spacecraft are enclosed in containers and separate when in orbit
KosmoLab develops CubeSat deployers for small spacecraft, 1U to 16U series depending on the size. The deployers are compatible with the Fregat upper stage, the Soyuz carrier rocket and the Progress spacecraft. In container production, the company relies mostly on local components and software. A deployer in each series and configuration can be used for launching the right dimensions and type of a CubeSat and can be adapted to other upper stages. The first prototype is already completed and has been tested. The second prototype is on the way.
KosmoLab manufactures 12U CubeSat deployers for 1-12U small satellites, 6U CubeSat deployers for 1-6U satellites, and 16U deployers for 1-16U satellites. Plans also call for manufacturing ultralightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic deployers to install on upper stages. The launch of each craft is assisted by control units that follow a given launch sequence. The control unit was also developed by KosmoLab and is an important element of the deployment system.
KosmoLab also produces separation and deployment systems for small-lift launch vehicles. They are used to install and launch the main load and a satellite as an additional load on the base of integrated deployers. They are developed for a wide range of launch vehicles and can be adjusted for concrete rockets and upper stages with reduced mass properties.
KosmoLab is striving to enter the market.
“We are hoping to find a governmental customer as part of the Russian launch program,” Maxim says. “To do so, we need funding to undergo expertise and receive a security certificate. We set our hopes on Skolkovo. We are holding talks with the customer and are working towards reaching this goal. We will consider it a certain success if we manage to join the Roscosmos state corporation as an affiliate company if there is demand for our products in Russia and the world. It would give us a great opportunity to reach foreign markets.”
As of now, potential customers of KosmoLab are private companies, including developers of small-lift launch vehicles, and aerospace universities. The developers are approaching organizations that could be interested in their products, sending out commercial proposals and offering transportation and launch containers as well as separation and deployment systems, including at thematic conferences. KosmoLab is offering the first flight model for free; the company had a plan to carry out the launch but had to postpone it amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long run, the company plans to build transportation and launch containers made to specific technical requirements from customers and implement a complete package of acceptance tests.
In December 2019, KosmoLab signed a strategic partnership agreement with another Skolkovo resident, Avant Space Systems, a company that develops small satellites. KosmoLab plans to use its deployers for launching Avant Space’s 20 16U CubeSat small satellites. By 2022, the partner companies plan to build and launch two microsatellites equipped with laser diodes in transportation and launch containers from the Progress cargo spacecraft; the diodes will be used for transmitting symbolic images. The miniaturized satellites will be used primarily for tracking data messages in space.
“We are planning to expand the company only in parallel to a growing number of orders. We will hire employees to work half- and quarter-time, and some to work part-time. I think that starting next year we will see a greater number of launches and the demand for our deployers will grow. So far, we are in the process of signing agreements and contracts with our clients. Next year, when the pandemic is over, hopefully, we expect that the expenses will pay off under the upcoming contracts and we will receive new grant finances to boost the export potential of our products in the world market,” Maxim said.
By Christina Firsova