What’s new about Russia’s space industry we learned on Day 1 at Startup Village forum?

Held annually on the territory of Skolkovo Innovation Center near Moscow, the third Startup Village forum has attracted more than 12,000 participants, proving its status of Russia and Eastern Europe’s biggest startup event.

Startup Village is a key initiative of Skolkovo Foundation – a non-profit organization that creates an ecosystem of innovation in Russia and integrates it into global community. The forum brings together startups, investors, advisors and other stakeholders from across Russia and neighboring countries.

Viktor Vekselberg, Skolkovo Foundation President, makes Startup Village opening speech. Credit: sk.ru
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Startup Village comprises a Conference, startup Competition, Special sessions, and Startup Bazaar exhibition. Competition part of the forum reflects 'cluster system' of Skolkovo center and includes competing (for investments and grants) startups from various industries, including IT, Biomed, Energy, Space & Telecom, and Industrial Technology.

Skolkovo space cluster emphasizes on support of small and promising startups. In 2014 they cumulatively attracted near 220 million rubles ($4.2 million) of private investments, and almost the same funding from Skolkovo Foundation. Total revenues of all companies of space cluster reached almost $25 million, far exceeding initially expected amount.

Some of the space cluster startups took part in the Competition within Startup Village, and we will focus here on those that develop space-related hardware and associated services. First of them, Yaliny, targets telecommunications market that is already shared by such companies like Iridium, O3b Networks, Globalstar, Thuraya, Inmarsat, and other.

At the first glance Yaliny's business model is simple – it will develop and launch 140-satellite low Earth orbit constellation and establish 40 ground stations in order to provide cheap, convenient and worldwide accessible communications services. Yaliny point, a $200-device to be connected to a smartphone or laptop, will provide you with Internet connection and voice calls ability everywhere in the world just for $10 per month.

Yaliny's communications network in brief. Credit: Yaliny
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Total cost of Yaliny communications network, however depending significantly on launch cost for all those satellites (which presumably will become lower in the nearest future), exceeds $1 billion. According to the company's representative, they have already found an investor that will cover half of development and launch cost of first two experimental satellites. Their mission is expected for the upcoming two years aboard Dnepr rocket.

Yaliny affirms that it has already passed R&D stage for its system, and currently it is at testing and early production stage that may last for up to three years. Infrastructure creation and commercial launch of Yaliny service are scheduled for 2019-2020.

Another Skolkovo space cluster startup that aims to steal market share from its better-known rivals from Europe and the US is Lin Industrial, developer of Taymyr family of SmallSat launchers. These launchers, according to Nikolay Dzis-Voynarovskiy, who presented the project at Startup Village, are being developed in two-staged modular configuration with payload capacity of 10…140 kg.

Rocket engines, to be developed jointly with Moscow Aviation Institute and tested since the current year on, will use hydrogen peroxide-kerosene propellant components and employ propellant-pressurized feed system with helium operating fluid. Maiden flight of the rocket is scheduled for 2020. Test flights are expected to take place from Kapustin Yar rocket range, commercial operation from mobile launch platform at Vostochny spaceport.

Photo credit: Lin Industrial

Lin Industrial has already signed partnership deal with Sputnix, SmallSat technologies developer, and attracted “several millions of rubles" from Sergey Burkatovskiy, co-founder of World of Tanks online game. Although cost of launcher's production is preliminary amounted to $15,000-$20,000 per kilogram of a SmallSat(s) to be orbited, the company currently sets a price tag of $40,000-$60,000 per kg for its mission.

No Russia's NewSpace event can be imagined without its most prominent representative, Dauria Aerospace, and Startup Village 2015 is not an exception. The company signed 60 million rubles ($1.14 million) investment deal with VEB Innovations, an investment arm of state-owned bank Vnesheconombank, in support of development of Auriga program.

Earlier Skolkovo Foundation invested into the program 150 million rubles ($2.84 million), and Dauria itself is reported to fund it at 160 million rubles ($3 million) more. Auriga represents a SmallSat platform of 16U CubeSat size and 15 kilogram weight for multispectral Earth imaging with ground resolution of up to 2.5 meter.

“Dauria Aerospace is an active participant of the Skolkovo ecosystem. It’s important to note that creating satellites on the basis of such cutting-edge technology will allow the Russian company to enter one of the most promising and fastest-growing segments of the global commercial cosmonautics.” Chairman of Vnesheconombank Andrei Morozov

Another space cluster partnership within Startup Village forum was signed between Sovzond, Russian geospatial technology and Earth monitoring services provider, and Skolkovo Foundation itself. According to the agreement, Sovzond will be involved in Skolkovo space ecosystem and take part in its initiatives.

As a dessert, Skolkovo space cluster executives and Startup Village organization committee invited Jeff Manber, Managing Director of NanoRacks, to make an inspirational speech about commercial space industry in the US, approaches and achievements of his company. Admittedly, he met the expectations.

Not detailing here into NanoRacks' activities, which cover all kind of business aboard the International Space Station and low Earth orbit, in particular, SmallSat deployment from the orbiting lab, we will focus on the most interesting and educative observations made by Jeff Manber:

  • “In America, people like to fail. If you fail twice they'd say to you: “Oh, you are an experienced person!” In Europe and Asia, on the contrary, people fear to fail.”
  • “There is a lot of money, enthusiasm, talent (for space business) on the West coast [of the US], from Seattle to Los Angeles, and not so much on the East, in New York or Boston, for instance”.
  • “We were not founding our company to be in a SmallSat deployment business. We found it to be in the Space Station business. But then we realized that SmallSat deployment was a business!”
  • “We didn't ask NASA or Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) to give us money. In fact, we asked them: “Will you allow us to do that [deploy CubeSats from Japanese Kibo module]?” And they agreed. NASA was shocked SmallSat deployment from the ISS could be a real business.”

Jeff Manber of NanoRacks talking at Startup Village forum
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Jeff Manber also told NanoRacks was investing in little robots that could be installed on the International Space Station and do various tasks, in particular, for pharmaceutical industry. He emphasized company's reliance on commercial space applications, not on governments and their high budgets. On the subject of slow innovation processes in space industry, raised by some attendees throughout the Conference, Jeff Manber expressed hope that 'innovations are finally coming into space industry'.

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