SpaceNews : D-Orbit forms U.S. venture to pursue satellite manufacturing

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TOKYO — D-Orbit, the European space transportation company, has established a joint venture in the United States to enter the satellite manufacturing business.

D-Orbit announced July 10 the formation of D-Orbit USA, a joint venture between the company and five American co-founders who have worked on satellite programs such as OneWeb, Project Kuiper and Starlink. The venture will combine the expertise of those founders with D-Orbit’s experience with its ION line of orbital transfer vehicles.

“The formation of D-Orbit USA marks a significant milestone in our strategic expansion into the U.S. market,” Luca Rossettini, chief executive of D-Orbit Group, in a statement. “By combining the unparalleled expertise of our US-based team with D-Orbit’s proven flight heritage, we are poised to deliver innovative, reliable and cost-effective solutions.”

D-Orbit USA’s chief executive is Mike Cassidy, who previously founded Apollo Fusion, a satellite electric propulsion startup that was acquired by Astra in 2021.

“They have flight heritage but they don’t really have a good U.S. presence,” he said of D-Orbit in an interview. “We’ve got a pretty good team but we don’t have any flight heritage. So our strategy is to put them together.”

D-Orbit USA plans to develop the ION satellite bus, which can accommodate payloads of up to 200 kilograms with several hundred watts of power. The bus will feature both chemical and electric propulsion options and is designed to operate for five years.

Cassidy said despite the plethora of options for smallsat buses available from other companies, he predicts there will be demand from both companies and government agencies, like the Space Force’s Space Development Agency. He added that the bus will feature a modular design that can become larger or provide more power as needed.

He said he expects D-Orbit USA to compete on cost and speed based on the experience of the founding team. “The cost of the bus we’re looking at right now competes, to my knowledge, extremely favorably with anyone else in the market,” he said, but did not offer a specific price. “We can deliver in 9 to 12 months on a satellite, which I believe compares favorably with other people on the market.”

The venture will use components from D-Orbit, which will be assembled and tested in the United States. Cassidy said they will be able to use components from other suppliers as well if those options are cheaper.

D-Orbit USA does not have any signed contracts for satellites, but Cassidy said they hope to launch their first satellite as soon as 2025. The venture will work with unnamed manufacturing partners and test facilities who will handle much of the work building and testing the satellites, which he said will allow the company to scale up production smoothly.

“That’s a big differentiator, I think,” he said, noting it was the same strategy he used at Apollo Fusion. “It’s one of those things where we might have four satellites next year or we might have 150. We don’t know, but we have the ability to do the 150 if we get them.”

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