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The French NewSpace Ecosystem
Mapping the List of Space Startups in France
Disclaimer: This is an *attempt* to map the space startup ecosystem in France, and it will be an ongoing exercise. As shown in the figure below, this list is non-exhaustive and only includes companies founded after 2010. Please reach out on my socials (LinkedIn or Twitter), for comments and feedback.
Context: Space in France
I have been living in France for over 6 years and over this period, I have come to learn that the French are extremely proud of their space heritage - from Ariane to Airbus, from Safran to Thales, all of which are household names across the country. As the French Space Agency, CNES celebrates its 60 year anniversary in 2022, I thought the ‘space buzz’ reached its peak last year with Thomas Pesquet’s launch and return to/from the International Space Station. And, as if that wasn’t enough - 2021 ended on a high for the space industry in France with the announcement from Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister for Economy and Finance who announced Maia Space, a reusable micro-launcher project from ArianeGroup, as part of the larger ‘France 2030’ vision - a 30 billion euro investment roadmap for the country, of which space is an important pillar with a 1.5 billion euro budget, with about 200 million euros allocated for micro-launcher projects and about 500 million euros for satellite constellations.
This development was inevitable, given that - as even Mr. Le Maire acknowledged - that Europe had fallen behind SpaceX, with respect to launch capabilities. So, I wasn’t really surprised that France decided to follow a “top-down” approach to innovation to keep up with SpaceX, in terms of launch. What surprised me most in the announcement that Mr. Le Maire made, was that there were a couple of launch companies that I had never heard of - Strato Space System (now called SIRIUS Space Services) and HyprSpace. Just a couple of weeks before this, I got to know of a French startup called QuantCube Technology, a fintech company that recently started integrating satellite imagery within their products - as many of you know Earth observation is my area of interest within the space sector.
So, motivated by sheer curiosity to understand the French space ecosystem better, I decided to embark on this exercise to map the NewSpace startups in France.
The French NewSpace Ecosystem
I deliberately left out companies that were in the “SME” category that have years of experience in the space sector, but have brilliantly adapted themselves to the “NewSpace” environment - like COMAT, Mecano ID, Callisto Space among others. I decided to do that to simply get an understanding of the companies that are “under the radar.” Larger enterprise groups with decades of experience in the space industry such as CS Group, CLS, Scalian etc. are also not included.
A number of these companies were new to me - especially in the Space Exploration and Infrastructure categories. Even within the Applications section - especially in Earth observation - I was surprised to see many new names, both within the Analytics and Products subsegments.
As you see on the figure, the French NewSpace ecosystem is (surprisingly) active across the value chain - from companies building the future of space economy on orbit (Interstellar, Zephalto, Toucan Space etc.) Space to those on Earth through launching satellites for collecting data (UnseenLabs, Prométhée etc.) and building products making sense of all the satellite data (Preliegens, Kayrros etc.).
What’s next for France in Space?
Given the “top-down” interest for space in France, and the rate at which the general tech startup ecosystem is growing in the country (ICYMI - France now has 25 unicorns, raising billions of $ in investment), I am pretty bullish about the future of space tech in France. Granted, France does not have a list of major global NewSpace players yet, and it might, one could argue is “a latecomer” to NewSpace, but recent developments from a number of names on this figure shows that growth of NewSpace in France is almost inevitable. I do hope that there is more importance given to Earth observation in France, as much there is for launch - but I think it is more of a case of evangelising EO in the right way, more so than anything else!
France’s space spending is pretty stable, and includes a number of policies to encourage the development of the NewSpace sector, as seen from the 2022 French Space Budget note and breakdown, from CNES.
Total Space Budget: €2.5 billion
ESA Contribution: €1.18 billion
National Space Programme: €740 million
CNES: €558 million
Future Investments Program: €29 million
Late last year, I attended the Inaugural Congress of the Space Climate Observatory (SCO), an initiative led by CNES in partnership with over 30 space agencies and organisations to to study and monitor the impacts of climate change at the local level by combining data from satellite observations with other sources. Several private space initiatives have also popped up in France in the last year or so - including the Alliance New Space, NewSpace Factory, SpacEarth Initiative, among others.
Therefore, I reckon that the combination of “top-down” effort and “bottom-up” activities in France will lead to a renewed outlook towards space in the country. And, I cannot wait to see all the developments and be part of it, as I continue to live in this wonderful country. Vive la France 🇫🇷
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