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Paris, 2021

DARK raises $ 5m to launch satellites from anywhere on Earth

Dark, a French space company developing a reusable rocket capable of being operated from airports, has raised $ 5m in their pre-seed round from Eurazeo, Frst and Kima Ventures.

 

Co-founded by Clyde Laheyne and Guillaume Orvain, two engineers in the Aerospace Defense industry, Dark aims to launch satellites to space from any point on Earth - provided that there is an airport close by. Combining several technological innovations, Dark overcomes current challenges to offer a versatile solution that is both highly-adaptable to a wide array of market demands, ultra-flexible as regards the point of delivery, and also offers a reliable scheduling.

Photo de Clyde Laheyne et Guillaume Orvain, Co-fondateurs de la société DARK

DARK cofounders: Clyde Laheyne & Guillaume Orvain

The orbit rush

 

For decades, Earth's orbit was serviced by large launchers such as the Ariane 5 (Ariane Groupe) and the Falcon 9 (Space X). Much like road freight, the economies of scale achieved by grouping together several payloads per delivery catered to a mostly institutional market. The flip side being poor adaptability to delivery points, heavy reliance on a handful of launch locations, and sensitivity to weather and air traffic - all this resulting in additional complexity, delays and costs.

 

The arrival of private low orbit constellations and applications a decade ago marked the beginning of commercial micro and mini-launchers in the United States. While these mini-launchers provided more flexibility in terms of delivery point, they still failed to tackle the dependence to fixed launchpad, thus leaving launches vulnerable to weather & air traffic conditions. As a consequence, these systems struggled to gain market shares, and still have a fragile economic model to this day.

The Low Earth Orbit is quickly becoming an industrial area hosting multiple high-tech activities. This explosion of use cases requires a paradigm shift in terms of the means of transport available, to ensure the soon-to-be daily trips between Earth and this new territory - but also to keep it clean." describes Bruno Raillard, Co-founder & Managing Partner at Frst.

 

To democratize access to space while minimizing the environmental footprint of its activity, Dark has chosen to develop a proximity, responsive and adaptable space launcher that is planned to take off from mainland France in 2026 and will allow it to establish itself as “the Swiss army knife” of micro deliveries to space.

3D model of the launching system: plane and rocket

An innovative model based on major technological advances

The idea seems straightforward: develop a system of micro-launchers carried by and fired from purposely-equipped aircraft. Inspired by missile design, this approach aims at making space launches possible from any airport in the world, thus overcoming the constraints of the launch pad - all the while offering reliability and flexibility to meet customer demands in terms of timing and point of delivery.

 

This launch system stands out for its versatility. From the get-go it will be capable of carrying out a wide range of missions, ranging from launching satellites into orbit to the recovery of space debris and the supply of space micro-factories. This adaptability is aimed at maximizing the usage of the service, thereby lowering the unit cost per launch. It also involves taking many technological strides, in areas such as biofuel-based engines and the reuse of stages.

 

“A rocket capable of such missions is obviously a technological challenge. But the challenge is first and foremost to build an organization capable of developing and operating it. Within 4 years, we expect to have more than 300 employees spread between our headquarters and our industrial site." explains Clyde Laheyne, CEO of Dark.

 

An ambitious challenge that also drew significant investor interest:

"Europe missed the first wave of vertical micro-launchers that took off in the United States about ten years ago. With its reusable airborne micro-launchers, Dark offers a reactive, versatile and modular solution, fully in tune with the industrial challenges of a market that is still very much in its infancy. We are proud to back such an ambitious project, unique in the world, led by exceptional founders and team." explains Benoist Grossmann, CEO of Eurazeo Investment Manager and board member of CNES.

First flights scheduled for 2026

 

Launched in July 2021, Paris-based Dark already has 11 employees - mostly engineers hailing from a range of different backgrounds such as missiles, drones, automobiles and rockets. The fundraising should also allow teams to develop by the end of 2022 a new type of rocket engine, powered by biofuels and that can be reused 100 times.

 

“Drawing from our past experiences, we were able to quickly define the technical specifications of the launcher and produce a first design. We are now in the process of building the industrial consortium that will allow us to develop the first functional models. The fundraise has also allowed us to acquire key tools that will underpin our efforts throughout the development phase, as well as attract experienced profiles from all over the world." explains Guillaume Orvain, CTO of Dark.

 

Dark’s official clock has already started the countdown: the first flight is planned to take place in 1665 days - or mid 2026. “This countdown is a great way to align everyone everyday around our mission” chuckles Clyde Laheyne. As for the first commercial launch, it is planned for 2028. At this point, Dark's fleet of launchers will be able to connect any airport in the world to space, thus contributing to the development of these new markets in Earth orbit.

3D model of the rocket

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