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How Open Cosmos Are Making Space More Accessible

Rafael Jordà-Siquier talks about how Open Cosmos is removing barriers to space, growing to almost 50 people and raising over $15M in the process.
Rafael Jordà-Siquier
  • Founder
    Rafael Jordà-Siquier
  • Space mission services
  • Focus
  • 🌍
  • Employees
  • 11-50
  • Country
  • Founded
  • 2015

Tell us your background and about your startup

After studying aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona and completing an MBA, I worked at large corporations such as Airbus Defence and Space, as well as small, innovative space start-ups such as Zero2infinity.

My desire to make space more accessible led me to develop Open Cosmos, while I was attending the prestigious Entrepreneur First incubator program in July 2015.

Open Cosmos provides simple and affordable space missions to help companies solve the world's biggest challenges. We enable companies across a wide range of industries to use space applications and technologies as a tool by removing three main space access barriers: time-consuming paperwork, expensive technology, and overall costs.

By rethinking the way a satellite is being developed, procured, manufactured and operated, we allow our customers to benefit from significant cost and time reduction while ensuring reliability across all mission elements.

This is driven by our "Mass-Customisation Methodology" which covers all aspects of a nano-satellite space mission from spacecraft design to testing, from procurement to launch, and from mission definition to operations and orbital data delivery.

We provide services and enabling tools for rapid payload development, allowing businesses, research institutions and organizations from across industries to develop their technologies.

How did the idea come about and what was it like getting started?

It was in 2009 when I and a small team of fellow aerospace students launched a stratospheric balloon, equipped with an experimental payload, including a camera. It was a simple and cheap payload container, that was assembled in a matter of a few days.

When the container had returned to Earth, after being launched to over 25 kilometers altitude, the resulting images from the edge of the atmosphere totally blew our minds. Seeing the curvature of the Earth under a bright Sun in a pitch black sky remained an inspiration for a lifetime.

If a small group of students could achieve this in a few days, the sky was literally no longer the limit. This profound experience became my inspiration of making the opportunities of space accessible to anyone.

Just over ten years later I lead the Open Cosmos team of almost 50 employees. Since the foundation of my company in 2015 we built and sold hundreds of small satellite on-board computers. Under a year later we led our team to delivering its first satellite mission, built from scratch to flight within eight months.

Add another two years and a growing team of young space professionals across 10 nationalities are developing missions for several customers around the world. All this time I have overseen the overall company strategy and directed its execution, all while working towards my original mission of democratising access to space.

"If a small group of students could achieve this in a few days, the sky was literally no longer the limit."

Why is the problem you are solving important?

The world is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth and change, and along with that comes a unique set of global challenges. In order to support the sustainable development goals, satellites will be a crucial source of global data and connectivity for countries around the world.

However, in the past, space missions have only been available to a few organizations due to the traditional technological, bureaucratic, and financial barriers to the space sector.

Open Cosmos’ vision is to break down these barriers and democratize access to space, enabling organizations of all backgrounds to use satellite data to drive sustainable human progress.

What are some achievements you're proud of?

For a four-year-old new space company we have achieved a lot already, and much more to come!

Some of our startup phase highlights include being part of part of Entrepreneur First and Tech Nation Scaleup Programme 2019 (UK mentoring programmes) as well as winning the SME Growth Challenge.

In terms of technology milestones, we delivered our first satellite (qb01) from scratch in 6 months to launch in May 2017. We've bee selected by ESA as the first Space Mission Provider for the Artes Pioneer programme. We've also been contracted by the UK Space Agency, the Catapult and the UK government. Currently, we'rebuilding an IoT in-orbit demonstration mission for Lacuna Space. And, quite excitingly, we've also signed a launch agreement with Arianespace for launches in 2019 and beyond!

As an organisation, we were one of the fastest growing UK space companies, doubling every 6 months with nearly 50 people in 2018 and the ambition to continue this growth in 2019. We raised $7 million in a series A funding round in 2018 and are a Barclays UK 'Emerging Tech Company 2018' winner. Personally, I'm proud to have been awarded Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 by Euroconsult.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced? How did you overcome them?

Every stage in the growth of a new company comes with challenges. I am sure that in the beginning our enthusiasm for what we had started was our best way to overcome the first challenge on finding customers. The simplicity, affordability and ease-of-use of our product clearly matched customer demand. That helped too.

Our second challenge, building a functional satellite in too little time was overcome by two things.

First, just hard work and dedication. We knew we had been given a unique opportunity to prove ourselves, and we were not going to let it slip. Hard work alone is of course not enough. We were lucky to have all the right skills and expertise in our small team to make it happen.

The lessons learned in this hectic period then became the basis for the next step, where we turned the company into a true full mission provider. The fact that we successfully launched and operated our satellite in record time, gave us the necessary credibility to key partners like ESA and a group of very good investors who believed in the strengths that we had shown. Thanks to the advice and support of these partners we are growing into the full space mission provider we now want to be for our customers.

At the moment we are facing one of the biggest challenges in our existence: growth! The scale-up phase that we are now in comes with a complete new set of challenges. Most important, finding the right staff! We are building the basis for a full blown satellite mission company, requiring a wide variety of hard-to-find skills.

We are lucky to have a solid core of the best software and aerospace specialists available, but are finding it difficult to compete on the labour market, where we are in direct competition with other industries, for example fin-tech, for talent.

I guess one of our best sales arguments is that we work in the coolest field imaginable. We will make your work fly to space!

What are your next steps?

We will continue to grow in line with our ambition to become a leading space mission provider to anyone. We continue to invest in talent, growing our employee base to the level we feel is necessary to serve our growing global customer base.

The year 2019 is proving to be a pivotal year, signing new agreements with customers to provide small-sat missions, marking a further shift towards relying on our own revenue to fund our future.

What is your vision for humanity in space long-term?

We don't really think too much about those very long time frames, although we firmly believe that the future of humanity is in (and with) space.

In this phase of our existence, we focus very much on what we think is already long-term, say 5 to 15 years, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that space can play an important role in addressing the SDGs, so it is our mission to help anyone get simple access to space to help solve these global challenges.

What advice do you have for aspiring space entrepreneurs?

Just do it! Space is definitely opening up to entrepreneurs.

Organisations like ESA and the UK Space Agency actively support entrepreneurs in their efforts to start or move into the world of space, including incubation and mentoring programs, and funding.

It is also much easier to use data from space, with programs like Copernicus, that allow entrepreneurs to build new applications with Earth observation data. Last but not least,

Open Cosmos is helping colleague space entrepreneurs get access to space, with its affordable mission design software and hardware, and an ever decreasing cost and time to get new instruments into orbit!

"People have to realise that money spent 'in space' will never leave Earth."

What’s the best way for the public to support you in your mission?

As we work in the B2B field, and as a commercial company, we do not sell consumer products or have a large public outreach program. However, as a player in the space industry, we suffer from the same public misperceptions that the entire space industry suffers from.

We really encourage the public to help us spread the truth about space. Every pound (£) invested in space, in the UK or in the rest of Europe, will return 3 to 8 pounds to the real economy. People have to realise that money spent 'in space' will never leave Earth. It is paid as salaries to hundreds of dedicated people working in this exciting industry, while the technological spinoffs to society add even more everyday value to our daily lives.

We contribute to this by making access to space even simpler and more affordable.

Then I already mentioned our difficulties finding well trained people, even though we work in a super cool industry. We would like parents and teachers to help show the coolness of space science and engineering.

STEM subjects are often perceived as dull, while in reality the applications of STEM subjects in space are among the most exciting things you can work on. We want children and students to see more of these exciting applications behind the equations. Chemistry and physics suddenly become super interesting when it is used to explain how a rocket engine works!

Where can people find out more about you and follow along?

We're active on several social media channels most notably on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Of course we share all our news (and job openings!) on our website.