Newport company B2Space plans rocket balloon satellite launches

WHEN Felix Baumgartner jumped into space from a balloon 10 years ago, the world watched with anticipation as the Austrian daredevil plummeted to Earth some 38km below.

Baumgartner’s successful parachute jump from the stratosphere made him world famous, but for four engineering friends, his exploits also sparked an idea.

Just as he had floated through the skies with a gigantic helium balloon, could the same technique provide a solution to expensive rocket technology?

Now based in Newport, their company, B2Space, is leading the way in developing an alternative and sustainable way to send smaller satellites into space.

Valentin Canales is the company’s co-founder, chief technology officer and general manager.

He told the Argus that he and three colleagues, who all met while working for Airbus in Bristol, watched Baumgartner’s epic skydive and saw the potential to solve a bottleneck in the space industry.

The co-founders of B2Space, including Valentin Canales (second from left). Photo: B2Space

“We had a common interest in the space industry and technology, and saw the exponential growth the small and micro-satellite industry was experiencing,” he said.

These satellites weigh less than 440 pounds (200 kg) and typically range in size from a shoebox to that of a washing machine.

“This massive growth has not been supported by the launch industry – there is a bottleneck in access to orbit for satellites, which have had to wait a long time to be transported into space” , explained Mr. Canales.

South Wales Argus: The balloons will save 70% of traditional satellite launch fuel and financial costs, Mr Canales said.  Image: B2SpaceThe balloons will save 70 percent of traditional satellite launch fuel and financial costs, Canales said. Image: B2Space

“We therefore decided to find solutions to this need and created B2Space with the aim of providing affordable, reliable and flexible launches into orbit for small and micro-satellites, while aiming to be the most sustainable launch company. in the world.”

Their “rockoon” vision was for a stratospheric balloon to lift a rocket-equipped satellite platform 35km into the air, where the atmosphere is a thousand times thinner than on the ground.

Then the platform points the rocket in the right direction, ignites it, and sends the satellites into orbit.

Mr Canales said the project is “completely different from anything done so far” and could save more than 70% in fuel and costs, compared to current launch techniques.

South Wales Argus: A test flight for the B2Space balloon.  Image: B2SpaceA test flight for the B2Space balloon. Image: B2Space

But the concept posed tricky technical challenges and required B2Space to develop new software to predict the balloon’s flight and to aim and stabilize the platform before the rockets were ignited.

The launch module also had to be reinforced to withstand the high levels of radiation and extreme temperatures in the stratosphere.

This is all done from B2Space’s headquarters on the outskirts of Newport. Mr Canales said the company chose the city because of its good transport links and because it is at the heart of a region with a well-established aerospace industry.

The company currently has 26 engineers in Newport, with a subsidiary in Spain, and plans to expand further over the next two years, including with a view to increasing the workforce to 100 by 2025.

South Wales Argus: Wales as seen from space.  Photo: NASA via PA WireWales seen from space. Photo: NASA via PA Wire

“We are on track to achieve our first commercial orbital launch by 2024, increasing our skills and capabilities,” Canales said. “We will soon be moving to larger offices and workshop in Newport to accommodate the fabrication and assembly of our vehicle and rocket systems, although we will continue to work closely with our local supply chain for various fabrications. with high added value.”

B2Space has raised nearly £4 million through private investment and grants, including support from the UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Welsh Government.

In Wales, ministers recently pushed for investment in the space industry, which currently employs 42,000 people and generates £14.8billion in income each year in the UK, and is expected to be worth £400billion sterling in the world in 2030.

South Wales Argus: Valentin Canales meets Welsh Government Economy Minister Vaughan Gething.  Photo: Welsh GovernmentValentin Canales meets Welsh Government Economy Minister Vaughan Gething. Photo: Welsh Government

The Welsh government is asking Wales to achieve a 5% share of the UK’s share, which would equate to £2billion a year for the Welsh economy. There is also a demand for greener technologies, and this is where B2Space could come into its own.

During a recent visit to the company’s Newport base, Economy Minister Vaughan Gething hailed the “innovative” and “world-leading” balloon project, which he said could “offer viable solutions to both minimize their carbon footprint and significantly reduce the levels of CO2 produced on Earth”.