InterviewsThis Page

Building An Exciting Stratospheric Balloon Launch Company With Zero 2 Infinity

José Mariano López Urdiales
  • Founder
    José Mariano López Urdiales
  • Balloon-borne launchers
  • Focus
  • 🌍
  • Employees
  • 11-50
  • Country
  • Founded
  • 2009

Tell us your background and about Zero 2 Infinity

I've been interested in space as far back as I can remember. My father is an astrophysicist and I've always been immersed in space missions. Before starting Zero 2 Infinity, I worked on space propulsion and had stints at places like ESA, Boeing Phantom Works.

Currently, we provide flights to Near Space, that is above where airplanes fly and below orbit. We use giant helium balloons to get there. On that basis, we are building additional space transportation services. Bloostar is a light payload launcher, and Bloon is a crewed vehicle for both research and leisure.

Why is the problem you are solving important and how does it help human space exploration?

There are lots of valuable activities worth doing above where airplanes fly, and we are not doing them because getting there is super restricted. We want to make it possible for folks to take their systems, and even themselves, up for a ride.

Bloostar is a light payload launcher, and Bloon is a crewed vehicle for both research and leisure.

People and companies have dreams and designs about what to do in space. We want to turn those dreams into reality, regardless if they are "connecting the unconnected" or "getting married".

It's significant in two ways. First, for those who want to do things in space, it's evident that getting there is necessary. So for people in the space industry, it’s important. On top of that, it’s even more significant in a second way. Many of those things that are taken up to space make all our lives better (think weather forecast, communications, GPS…), so it influences, literally, everyone on the planet.

We are going back to the fundamentals. Instead of copy pasting the missiles from the cold war, we are breaking the problem in two: first, go up, then go fast. The "go up" part is done by balloon, the "go fast" part, it is really needed, is done by a rocket that is dramatically simpler than those taking off from sea level.

How did the idea for Zero 2 Infinity come about and what was it like getting started?

I grew up around rockets, aerospace engineering problems and space exploration; my father being an astrophysicist, those were themes in the car or at the dinner table. I have always felt that there is so much potential in space to unblock if not only a few mega-projects backed by governments but anybody with a smart idea could access it.

After a career in conventional aerospace (ESA, Boeing Phantom Works, etc.) I felt that, despite being staffed by impressive professionals, the incentive structures in those very fine organizations were not conducive for the type of transformational change in access to space that I feel is needed to unlock the potential.

So I founded Zero 2 Infinity. I looked for like-minded folks who could help in different ways; with investment, advice, customers. The first few months pretty much set the tone for the company culture so far, always looking forward and obsessing about capital efficiency.

How did you fund the company initially and what is your business model now?

Before talking to investors, I hired the first team members, flew the first prototype, launched the website, and filed a patent. Then, armed with significant achievements to show, it was time to talk to local investors, and I was very fortunate to receive investment from Ultramagic, which is one of the world's largest manufacturers of crewed balloons and it happens to also be near Barcelona. Their CEO was also a founder and studied at the same university (UPM) as I did.

We generate revenue out of our un-crewed flights for blue-chip customers such as Airbus and Thales.

What have been some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?

Trailblazing a new path (in our case, space) always entails a host of challenges. The biggest is credibility; there is a lot of inertia regarding how space is perceived (capital-intensive, done only by governments, risky). Overcoming that inertia with information requires lots of energy, patience, and passion - but so far so good.

Trailblazing a new path (in our case, space) always entails a host of challenges.

To overcome these challenges, we have built a strong presence in the industry, as we have been featured in several international and Spanish national media. This fact  has enabled us to demonstrate that we are capable of providing solutions that are more affordable and flexible to allow the flourishing of new market niches in the industry.

What are exciting milestones coming up for Zero 2 Infinity?

We are consolidating some new applications of un-crewed stratospheric balloons both for surveillance and telecommunications. In the longer term, we are very excited about our first human flights. About this last milestone, we are currently looking towards the obtaining of all certifications and permits. As this might take some time (because it’s a process that doesn’t rely on us entirely) we keep working in the refinement of the technological core, so we expect to offer this service in a couple of years.

What advice do you have for aspiring space entrepreneurs?

I wish someone had told me when I was starting that, even if you have a big vision, it's more effective and strategic to keep it simple and modest and less ambitious in the beginning. Too much light can blind and affect credibility. Also, I consider that is important to have a team of talent that work hand-in-hand with you and face the challenges ahead. And having trust in your project, to always take it to the next level.

It's more effective and strategic to keep it simple and modest and less ambitious in the beginning.

How can the public support you with your mission?

I feel that the public can help shape the way things will play out in this ew Space Race. By asking more of how their taxes are put to use, they can lead governments to use more competitive and open markets instead of the traditional "Old Space" way to go about Space projects.

Lastly, where can people find out more about you and Zero 2 Infinity?

We are active on most social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

For those willing to dig deeper into the technical solutions, there is a documentation center in our website with selected papers and patents.

You can also come to see us if they visit sunny Barcelona.