European space startup partners with India for Moon mission

The Exploration Company chose to fly its upcoming Moon mission aboard an Indian rocket following delays to the debut launch of Ariane 6.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the Nyx spacecraft.
An artist's impression of the Nyx spacecraft.

The Exploration Company 

European space startup The Exploration Company has signed an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with a view to reaching the Moon by 2028, a report from The Next Web reveals.

The Bordeaux and Munich-based company will partner with ISRO's commercial arm, New Space India Limited (NSIL), and will use ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). 

ISRO recently made history by making India the first nation to perform a successful soft landing on the lunar south pole region.

Space startup to fly 'Nyx' and 'Bikini' prototypes

The first mission that will take place as part of the ISRO and Exploration Company partnership is currently scheduled for January 2024. It will involve the testing of the Bikini, a small prototype version of The Exploration Company's reusable Nyx spacecraft.

During that test mission, Bikini will burn up in the atmosphere, but the company will also deploy a reentry prototype module called Mission Possible.

Nyx, which was named after a Greek goddess, will have open interfaces available on a SpaceStore to allow companies to develop new applications for the spacecraft. The first orbital mission of Bikini is scheduled for 2026.

Bikini was originally meant to fly aboard Arianespace's next-generation Ariane 6 rocket this autumn. However, the debut launch of Ariane 6 has been postponed on numerous occasions — it is currently expected to launch next year. Those delays led The Exploration Company to look for a different partner for its launches, leading to the partnership with ISRO.

Europe's answer to SpaceX?

Europe is currently experiencing a rocket crisis due largely to the fact that Arianespace has launched its last Ariane 5 mission but has yet to fly Ariane 6. A smaller launch vehicle, Europe's Vega-C booster, has been grounded since it failed on its second flight in December last year.

During the European Space Agency's (ESA) annual media briefing in January, Director General Josef Aschbacher said, "From mid-2023, we do not have guaranteed access to space for European launches, and this is a huge problem," he explained during the agency's annual media briefing in January."

The Exploration Company isn't the only Europan firm to take its business elsewhere due to the current hiatus on European launches. U.K. company Open Cosmos recently announced it will launch its satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission instead of Ariane 6. ESA also recently launched its dark matter telescope Euclid aboard a Falcon 9.

In the long term, the Exploration Company hopes to compete with SpaceX by providing a European cargo spacecraft.

The company designed Nyx to carry cargo and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as the Moon.

The European space startup raised €40 million in February thanks to the largest ever Series A for European space tech.

In an interview with Sifted shortly after the Series A announcement, Exploration Company cofounder and CEO Hélène Huby explained that "America has reusable capsules. China has reusable capsules. Europe has no capsules. It's quite important we have the capacity to do this."

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