18 October 2023 - Andreas Schack

Smart-Satellite Design for New Space Economy made in Bremen

ESA BIC Northern Germany
Satellites from the construction kit: Lars Kesseler in front of a model of his modular satellite. © Andreas Schack

Putting satellites equipped with sensitive measuring devices and instruments into orbit costs a lot of money and a lot of time. The Bremen-based start-up Astrait has developed a hardware concept with which the development and transport into space can be standardised to such an extent that even medium-sized companies could afford such missions in the future. With the help of an online configurator, customers should also be able to equip their satellite individually and quickly.

Individual satellite configuration is enormously cost-saving

Astrait founder and space engineer Lars Kesseler has a clear vision: he wants to simplify the process of space missions. Instead of designing and building a customised satellite for each individual project, Kesseler and his team have developed a universal model over the past two years since the university start-up was founded in Aachen. This versatile satellite would be able to carry a variety of cargo - from telescopes and communications equipment to grappling arms, measuring instruments and scientific experiments - safely and efficiently into space. "It's not built yet. But the plans are ready," the 32-year-old says. 

The idea of Astrait can be compared well with the car market: "A Volkswagen, for example, is available in different versions - from the inexpensive standard to the high-quality premium equipment. However, the chassis and many technical functions, from lights to brakes to steering, are mostly identical," the founder illustrates. Astrait has now developed a micro-satellite that is standardised like a Volkswagen and at the same time can be equipped with accessories and cargo according to the customer's wishes. "That sounds unspectacular at first," admits Kesseler. But building and using this standard would be a revolution in the aerospace industry. Until now, the industry has mostly built Lamborghinis instead of Volkswagens, which are also developed from scratch every time. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel for every mission. With our standardised micro-satellite, companies can save valuable development time and a lot of money," he emphasises.

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With a configurator to the satellite of your dreams

But even with standardised hardware, the hurdles for companies that want to go into space are still high, according to Kesseler. "They are involved in the entire time-consuming development process and have to bring a lot of know-how with them," he explains.   The space engineer criticises the fact that customers still have to decide on too many details instead of simply receiving a functional product. "Imagine if you had to choose every single screw before buying a car and also had to train as a car mechatronics engineer beforehand," he says, illustrating the effort involved.

Astrait's solution to this dilemma is an online configurator that guides future satellite customers step-by-step through a process that culminates in an individually equipped mini-satellite - including costs and possible suppliers. "In this way, both sides ¬- orderer and space industry - save a costly and time-consuming exchange. "Much like buying a car online, our satellite configurator allows you to individually equip a satellite according to your own wishes," explains Kesseler.

Both the plans for the Astrait satellite and the software for the configurator are already well advanced, according to Kesseler. "Our next step is now to offer our solutions on the market."

He says he is supported in many ways in Bremen, not least with the investor readiness programme of the Bremen & Bremerhaven start-up house. "As an engineer, I simply had little contact with marketing and commercial matters until I founded the company," says the founder, expressing his gratitude for the support.

Off-the-shelf satellites instead of individual development: This should reduce costs and open up new markets for spaceflight © Astrait

City of Space: Bremen

Originally founded in 2021 as a start-up at Aachen University of Applied Sciences with other students, Lars Kesseler's business led Astrait (formerly Levity Space) to Bremen. There were many good reasons for his move from Aachen to Bremen. "Bremen, as the 'City of Space', New Space simply offers companies like Astrait the more exciting opportunities," explains Kesseler. 

In the Hanseatic city, for example, Astrait found a valuable network in the ESA Business Incubation Center (BIC), which provided access to a wealth of space resources and contacts. "With the headquarters of space giants such as Airbus and OHB, as well as the numerous cooperating institutions, Bremen is also an ideal location for an aspiring space company," says Kesseler. And so he has already been able to make many valuable contacts here and benefit from the personal exchange with leading minds in the industry. In this supportive environment, the space entrepreneur sees the best conditions for further establishing himself in the new space industry with Astrait.

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