Commercial services related to space access are all the rage. And not only in the USA or China, but also in Europe. And since the space industry does not just live on small launchers, more and more European companies are being created to fill a certain niche in this sector. One such company is the Franco-German Exploration Company, which has shot to fame in recent weeks after securing €40.5m in financing. Or what was the same, the difference between Powerpointismo And something more serious. The main product of this European company created in 2021 is the Nyx spacecraft, a capsule designed to carry cargo into space, and at a later stage – much later – also humans.
Nyx has been proposed as a “modular, reusable, on-orbit refueling” vehicle. The idea is to provide cargo transportation services to the International Space Station (ISS), future commercial stations, or individual flights with microgravity experiments. And on a period “While we’re at it, why not…” they also propose commercial missions to the Gateway lunar station and even to the lunar surface (using a capsule-derived lunar module). The Nyx design is very simple on the outside, with a conical capsule attached to a server module with solar panels covering half of it. The appearance is reminiscent of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, but unlike the “trunk” of the American ship, the service module carries a thruster for the three main engines and other systems.
Although not many technical details are available, Nyx will be able to carry up to 4 tons of cargo and will be able to stay in orbit for up to six months. The idea is that each kilogram of cargo in orbit costs 20,000 or 25,000 euros (the cost of transporting 1 kg of cargo to the International Space Station is about 100,000 euros). Nyx should take off using commercial launchers. This means that, on the one hand, the company can focus on designing the capsule without worrying about the launcher, but on the other hand, it will have to cover the costs of each mission. With those credentials, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought it was corporate vaporware More than that, but the fact is that in addition to the recent investment of funds, the exploration company has among its ranks real heavyweights in the European aerospace industry from Safran, ArianeGroup and CNES (the French Space Agency). The CEO herself, Helen Hobby, comes from Airbus Defense and Space, where she was involved in the European Service Module (ESM) for the Orion spacecraft.
As a sign of the company’s seriousness, a small prototype of the capsule, dubbed the Bikini, will take the Ariane 6’s maiden flight—hopefully at the end of the year—to check out its aerodynamic properties and heat-shield feasibility. The capsule will be packed with sensors, but no recovery is planned. The exploration company is headquartered at Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (France). A second test mission, dubbed Mission Potential, is scheduled for 2024, during which it will launch a miniature version of Nyx 2.5 meters in diameter, carrying 300 kg of experiments and cargo from the European Space Agency (ESA). French DLR and CNES. The first flight of an operational Nyx capsule is planned for 2026 and the first lunar mission in 2028. The exploration company also intends to use Nyx to deliver cargo to Orbital Reef Station, led by Blue Origin. Let’s not kid ourselves, Nyx has many elements against it because it doesn’t see the light of day – or, simply put, is not profitable – but the inertia that the project holds is certainly remarkable.