CubeSat maker Exobotics adds satellites to cart

Today, online stores allow shoppers to access a diverse range of products. And to push the limits, CubeSat compatible parts are ready to take off. British space technology company Exobotic‘ allows customers to “browse, select and customize” various satellite components to meet mission requirements. Products include satellite subsystems, buses and traveling platforms, as well as ground support and test equipment. And the list is eye-catching in more ways than one.

new space

Having an online store is a smart way for Exobotics to highlight how accessible space technology has become. The CubeSat specifications developed in the late 1990s ushered in a new wave of affordable technologies – in terms of space – which attracted the interest of a much wider customer base. But the question that arises for customers who wish to embark is how to make their ideas a reality? The price may now be within reach, but mainstream companies often have little knowledge of how to build their own satellites and prepare them for launch. And that’s where Exobotics comes in – to help customers test potentially profitable ideas in space.

“We are their in-house satellite development team,” Nadeem Gabbani, CEO of Exobotics, told TechHQ. “We can do the operations and also take care of the ground support side.” The startup, which has offices in London, Cambridge and further south-west of the UK, giving them easy access to Cornwall Spaceport – aims to reduce barriers to entry for companies wishing to take advantage of satellite technology. For example, fintech companies may want to launch an imagery payload that allows traders to monitor commodities – not by relying on typical city data feeds, but by viewing crops from space as they develop on the ground.

The advantage of space over using airplanes, or more recently, drone technology, is the huge improvement in coverage. CubeSat designs, much more affordable than conventional satellites, allow customers to target locations that are not served by large-scale missions such as NASA and ESA programs. Additionally, even if satellite coverage already exists, the payload may not be able to provide the exact data a business may want. Nanosatellites can fulfill a wide variety of missions – for example, to support innovative IoT projects, radio frequency use cases, GPS alternatives, and the list goes on.

“You need a good understanding of your customers’ requirements,” Gabbani said, explaining the key first step in the process. “We facilitate and accelerate the validation of ideas.” Exobotics can help customers go from idea to launch in 18 to 24 months. Or, for an accelerated program, in as little as one year. Gabbani is careful to keep his clients’ business intentions secret, but he shares some more general details about future programs.

CubeSat validation

Exobotics’ first satellites – three 6U CubeSat configurations – are set to launch in a few months as part of a program SpaceX launch in the USA. Putting satellites in space requires modules to undergo rigorous testing. In fact, payloads will be denied launch by rocket operators if the developers cannot show valid test data.

At a high level, CubeSat modules are placed in a “dispenser”, which is loaded onto a launch rocket. And, at the right moment in space, the satellites are pushed out of their container using a “jack in the box” like spring. Designs must be able to withstand the forces at all stages of the mission.

Exobotics’ first products were equipment intended to help satellite builders better evaluate their designs. “About 25% of CubeSat failures are due to a lack of ground testing,” Gabbani said. “And often the tests were only done at the end.” The desktop kit designed by the Exobotics team made it easier for developers to evaluate their satellites throughout the construction phase, not just at its conclusion. Additionally, the units – which allow for vibration testing and thermal cycling (necessary to assess the integrity of soldered connections in the payload electronics) – have been built specifically for the products specified by CubeSat. Previously, the developers were content with an older kit that was originally intended to check larger satellites.

Gabbani’s attention to detail shines through as well as his passion for building satellites. His undergraduate studies were nearly derailed because he couldn’t tear himself away from the CubeSat projects that had launched him on the journey to create Exobotics. The company benefits from the investment the UK is making in space technology, which includes the creation of Spaceport Cornwall – a facility which currently hosts pristine orbit.

Exobotics is grateful for the support of Aeronautics Cornwall, who has been invaluable in helping to set up and run the space technology business. And today, thanks to growing customer interest, the startup recently opened a new engineering lab and clean room. Revenue is reportedly £4m, cementing a solid foundation for building affordable cubesat-shaped satellites and giving companies a wealth of knowledge to tap into. Watch this place.