Do you think it is possible to launch a rocket from an aircraft in flight? The answer is yes, and the creators of the French start-up Dark want to establish themselves as a global reference in the field of orbit, but also in the recovery of space debris.
French start-up Dark, founded in July 2021 by engineers Clyde Lahein and Guillaume Orwen, plans in the near future to be able to send rockets or satellites into orbit from aircraft with full flight. This way they will be free from the limitations of the launch pad and will greatly reduce the cost of the launch. Their passion for innovation doesn’t stop there, because Dark’s job is not just to send satellites into space, but to bring them back from the next. Recently, the new company has been able to raise five million dollars in a matter of days to support various investors.
If the concept of these space launchers already exists next to the United States where the agency Virgin Orbit, which specializes in launching small satellites from the air, is based, then Dark will be a pioneer in Europe. The space ambitions of French start-ups are great, especially during space races where the richest personalities on the planet are involved. Although he left the mystery of the origin of his start-up name for a moment, Clarid Lahein, co-founder of Dark, answered our questions about his innovative project.
Having air-drop rockets means we have the most current mega infrastructure on the planet capable of harnessing airports.
What is darkness?
Dark is a space transport company, and like any such company, its assets are its distribution network. We have two features: we use air-drop and multi-mission launcher. Having air-drop rockets means we have the most current mega infrastructure on the planet that is capable of harnessing airports. This allows us to deal with the completely hidden supply chain of space launches from Europe today. Launches are on Amazon, the Arctic Circle or currently in Russia. Regarding the multi-mission aspect, it should be noted that historically large launchers have operated with negligible program costs compared to launch costs. This is where Space X appears. Elon Musk was able to distribute the launch costs among several players.
How do you try to stand out?
As far as we’re concerned, we have a very high system approach. We thought that since we were selling the service, we would have to find a way to measure the cost of the program. So today we create a launcher that attacks several markets, which means that keeping the payload in orbit is just part of our activity. Several things are very useful for this method: First, we are orbiting and deorbiting. We are also going to look for things in space. Second, we are more economically efficient because the people we hire are able to perform a variety of tasks. Third, above all, it allows us to be resilient to any change in the satellite market.
We must succeed in finding an industrial way that allows the entire French and European industrial satellite ecosystem to create and build something as good as SpaceX could be in the United States.
Being able to send small satellites the way we want and at low cost whenever we want helps the government and the development of the industry. We must succeed in finding an industrial way that allows the entire French and European industrial satellite ecosystem to create and build something as good as SpaceX could be in the United States. The problem in France and Europe is that we are trapped in launch windows and launcher choices, as many leave Amazon or the Arctic Circle. Darkness is valuable because we are moving toward a much larger number of small satellites to create a constellation of satellites, with very large satellites at great distances from geostationary activity. The need for continuous renewal and installation of new installations in space is clearly worthwhile.
How do you come up with ideas for the dark?
Dark’s idea comes from our respective backgrounds with Guillaume Orvain. We have seen the MBDA missile system. We were a missile operator there and had a great career with very good progress which allowed us to move towards technical issues with very high potential. At a certain point in time, we wanted to free ourselves from the big manufacturers in a more inspiring technology project. So we decided to create our own technology project, and that’s when we became entrepreneurs. Neither Guillaume nor I am an entrepreneur at heart, we were fortunate to meet our current investors (Urajio, Frost and Kima Ventures) because we were able to raise five million dollars in just a few days. We started 6 months ago when we were just two, we are now 12 years old and have an office in Paris. We must open branches in every continent.
How do you see the use of this technology?
In our view, a good transport company is judged by the richness of its distribution network. If in France we continue to use more post than UPS, there is a reason why post office delivery is better. Our vision is that by the end of this decade we will be a fully distributed space transport company that will not only keep satellites in orbit but also bring them. One of the most important powers that the planet will lack in the future is managing space, not just filling it. There is plenty of space in space, but the truth is that we occupy a small part of it directly above us. In terms of distance from the Earth, the ISS is only a Paris-Clermont ferry away from us (400 kilometers). Satellites are usually placed between 500 and 800 kilometers above the planet. When we talk about space chaos, it means that everyone is crowding in one place and the position of objects in space is not so precise. So there is a risk of chain collision.
By 2040, we want to be able to transport space and planets in a fully democratic and integrated way with human activity.
So building the ability to remove debris or satellites is a challenge for us. By 2030, we want to be the most widely distributed international power for orbit and deorbiting. Then, by 2040, we want to be able to transport space and planets in a fully democratic way and in unison with human activity. The goal is to allow the planet to conduct 100% of its activity in space.
Are you a French team or rather an international one?
We are a team of 12 people. At this point we are keeping it as small as possible. We rely heavily on the skills of the people we hire, each with over 5 or 10 years of experience. We have favored “star” people in their case. By the end of the year, we will usually have crossed a major milestone in the initial design phase. We will be able to enter development and open 50 or 60 positions which we will try to fill again with “stars” in ESA (European Space Agency), Ariane, CNES (National Center for Space Studies), American or Indian. Company
We realized that if we really want the best in the world, we have to go international
We are an international company, we have hired more than half of us abroad. Countries currently represented include the United States, Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Germany. We quickly felt the need to make it international. We realized that if we really want the best in the world, we have to go international because France occupies this particular part of the rocket that still works with solid propellants. From a technical point of view, we need people who have experience with very recent rocket development, where France has developed two in the last 40 years.
Knowledge of French in this sector কিভাবে how is there an added value?
Indeed in many respects French knowledge কিভাবে how there is a real added value. France has significant scientific expertise in launchers. Industrial skills can only be acquired if an industry similar to the one we want to develop already exists. To find profiles we might be interested in, companies that manufacture multi-mission air-dropped launchers must exist. These multi-mission launchers do not yet exist, and only Virgin Orbit has created Air-Drop Launcher, where the best profiles can be found. There is a very technical architecture specific to our products. Anyone can develop the elements we use, but no one has put them together.
What are the challenges of launching such a project, especially in Europe?
Many people mistakenly think that kalas is a political issue. I think there is a kind of misunderstanding about how to create a sovereign or autonomous power of a country or an organization. The promise of a dark future must be a business. Our commitment to France and European countries is to be able to launch competitive launches from the region with SpaceX pricing, breaking their current supply chain. That is our only goal. All the work of lobbying organizations and politicians is useless because being forced to lobby means that there is a gap in what anyone is trying to do. There is a very opposing aspect to trying to make a political arrangement where when a business is autonomous, divisive and profitable, all investors logically jump on it. So we’re focused on a commitment that we need to make: create something sovereign and competitive with SpaceX for everyone.
What sets you apart from the American players in this case?
We are the only players who are building a rocket that is not only capable of lifting debris but whose economic stability does not depend solely on the satellite market.
How far will you project yourself in the future?
Darkness develops among the most awaited technologies in the field of aeronautical defense (integration of space traffic, cryogenic of fuel, recycling of phases, removal of debris, etc.). We have this project to build the spacecraft of 2040.
Do you believe in expatriation in space?
I am an optimist and an idealist with hints of physical skepticism. Today, I find it difficult to project the good for the human species. But I think we have to trust future generations, we still don’t know the best space applications. On the other hand, we can show the way and Dark does just that.