Earlier today portfolio company D-Orbit ushered in the start of the in-orbit transportation market, marking a major milestone in the dawn of the in-space economy.
D-Orbit confirmed that the inaugural mission of its space-based last mile delivery service has been completed. Representing the world’s first ever ‘space taxi’ mission, D-Orbit’s ‘Ion’ spacecraft successfully complete the delivery of all of its ‘passengers’ (namely 12 SuperDoves satellites from Planet, the no.1 smallsat earth observation constellation).
D-Orbit’s Ion is a spacecraft that aggregates up lots of small satellites, piggy backs a lift into orbit on a large rocket with the likes of SpaceX, and then flies around dropping off its cargo / passengers in the precise orbital destination required. We think of this as being like a space taxi service, as it combines the best elements of large rockets (buses) with those of dedicated smallsat launchers like Rocket Labs (cars).
Whereas buses are inexpensive, they don’t get you to your desired final destination. Contrastingly, cars take you to wherever you want to go, but are expensive. With D-Orbit’s Ion space taxi, customers get the dual benefits of the precise orbital insertion (i.e. desired destination) of a smallsat launcher, whilst leveraging the dramatically lower costs of large rockets.
Having spent the last 5 years speaking to many of the companies looking to build out their own smallsat constellations, we think D-Orbit’s space taxi concept will have a key role to play in catalysing the wider New Space ecosystem. It offers unique benefits in terms of how quickly and cost effectively satellites can get to their desired orbits, and indeed which orbits they can get to. This has the potential to dramatically reduce mission costs.
With D-Orbit’s second Ion mission with SpaceX scheduled for December already fully booked and a full launch manifest now in place for 2021, we are really excited to see the impact D-Orbit is making on the market.
What is more, space taxis are merely the start of D-Orbit’s ambitions. One of the key reasons we backed the business was because of their vision of looking to use their Ion space taxis to perform secondary missions after they’ve delivered all their passengers / cargo. These secondary applications will in time encompass everything from space debris removal, satellite servicing, in-space manufacturing, space-based relay systems and even datacentres in space.
Hence why we see D-Orbit’s first space taxis mission as being such a significant moment for the wider industry; it is both the inaugural mission for resolving the bottleneck for launching smallsats whilst also marking a first stepping stone towards unlocking the future $trillion in-space economy.
D-Orbit demonstrated the first commercial last-mile delivery service. For the first time a cargo satellite has successfully deployed a dozen satellites in their operation position.