After spending time with the Gilmour Space team the biggest insight is that building rockets can be simplified and redesigned for a time frame and cost that fits into the cadence of a technology startup.
Rivers of Inquiry
One of the best ways to learn about new investment themes is from our prior investments. After investing in autonomous vehicle company, Zoox, we learnt that LiDAR is a key piece of technology holding the industry back from commercial production. This led us to Sydney based LiDAR team, Baraja, which has delivered its first products to paying customers in under a year.
Similarly, our investment in micro satellite business, Fleet, led us to understand that one of the biggest problems facing the small satellite industry is actually launching the satellites into space. This prompted us to look closely into the space launch business.
Building a commercially successful rocket is about cost and reliability. Gilmour Space has two core pieces of technology that make it transformative in this sense. The first is its proprietary 3D printed hybrid rocket fuel cell which uses multiple materials to provide a consistent thrust profile through the rocket’s burn.
Secondly, Gilmour has built a rocket engine which uses a non-explosive and room temperature oxidiser. This removes millions of dollars of cost and complexity from each launch, caused by cryogenic components used in almost every other type of commercial rocket. This also means the rocket itself is much simpler with less moving parts. It will be an order of magnitude less expensive to build and more reliable due to less failure points.
Most rocket companies are now using a combination of 3D printing and carbon fibre for the structure of the rocket and Gilmour Space will do the same. The avionics and stage separation components can largely be bought off the shelf or cheaply developed in-house. Integration of all the components to create a complete vehicle is a solved problem — and Gilmour Space has people with the right experience and mindset to make this happen.
In 18 months, Gilmour Space plans to have completed development of its first rocket and be earning revenues from taking payloads into space for testing.
To Infinity ?
The space launch industry has been caught up in a cycle of increasing costs fueled by large government budgets and bureaucracy. It cost billions to develop the Space Shuttle and around US$1.8b per launch. SpaceX has proven that you can develop a new launch vehicle with hundreds of millions of dollars. Rocket Lab has proven that you can develop a rocket for around a hundred million. Gilmour aims to prove you can develop a rocket for tens of millions and launch for a third to a tenth of the current cost of putting a small satellite in orbit.
We feel the space industry has the potential to grow significantly over the coming years as technology advances and costs decrease, much as did the personal computer and smartphone industries. And there is no reason why some of the new space companies can’t be Australian.