Bulgarian nanosatellite SME EnduroSat’s unique technology helps cut the cost of  accessing space-based sensors and equipment for scientists and businesses. Though hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company continues to grow with venture debt from the EIB under the Pan-European Guarantee Fund.

Bulgarian NanoSat provider EnduroSat’s journey from Earth to space began in an 25 m2 attic  in Sofia in 2015. Raycho Raychev, the now 38-year old founder and CEO of EnduroSat, gathered a team of four bright, young engineers from a new space education programme that he had helped found five years earlier. “Everyone who joined at first came from our own education programme,” he says. “At the time there was no other academic programme that could help prepare students in Bulgaria for a career in the space sector.” 

The company was founded with one simple idea in mind: to make space more accessible to scientists and entrepreneurs around the world. “We believe that universal access to space could fundamentally improve life on Earth,” says Raychev, who first studied history at university before turning his focus to opportunities in outer space. “I’ve always had these two passions: to try to understand our own society and civilisation; and space. I’ve dreamed about designing spacecraft and exploring the universe ever since I was a child.”

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Raycho Raychev, Founder and CEO, EnduroSat ©EnduroSat

EnduroSat is opening opportunities in space research to businesses and scientists through its uniquely flexible, multi-purpose NanoSats, which can be reprogrammed for each mission with an emphasis on software flexibility, rather than tailor-making new hardware for each mission. The company’s software allows its tiny satellites, to perform multiple missions without the need for hardware tweaks and is developing an innovative data-sharing platform.

“A typical satellite is tailored for just one particular sensor,” Raychev explains. “Like a Rolls Royce, each satellite is unique. We’ve broken this mould by building a satellite platform capable of carrying different sensors and electronics without having to change the hardware for each payload. We can adjust our satellites’ performance and carry out updates and improvements throughout the entire  mission lifecycle. Our multi-mission satellites break the mould of “single satellite, single mission”, which means we can offer tremendous advantages in terms of cost and performance.”

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An EnduroSat software-defined NanoSat being built ©EnduroSat

Flexible fleet from a Bulgarian nanosatellite SME

The company has also launched a Shared Satellite Service that allows its customers to lease the company’s satellites to deploy and operate sensors and instruments in space, instead of developing their own satellite fleets. This reduces the costs of accessing low Earth orbit and the risks of each mission.

EnduroSat’s approach also has benefits for the space environment because it means fewer satellites and fewer launches are needed for any given number of applications. This saves on CO2 launch emissions and results in less orbital debris in space.

Here are the key developments that make EnduroSat an innovator:

  • Multi-mission NanoSats with multiple sensors reduce the number of satellites and launches  needed
  • Flexible satellites that don’t require hardware modifications, because they are modified through new software updates
  • Shared Satellite Service allows customers to lease shared equipment, lowering costs
  • Space App Store to allow clients to buy space data from each other and fuse it for more insights

Financing challenges for Bulgarian nanosatellite SME

But like so many companies dependent on complex supply chains, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a challenging time for the young Bulgarian NanoSat provider.  Faced with delayed rocket launches, component shortages and the logistical problems of moving engineers and components, the company turned to the European Investment Bank for financing.

Using guarantees provided by EU Member States through the Pan-European Guarantee Fund, a tool created by most Member States of the European Union to help companies hit by the pandemic, the Bank provided a venture debt financing agreement of up to €10 million for EnduroSat.

The financing will help EnduroSat ride out the crisis and continue to develop the company’s satellites and new innovative services, such as its forthcoming Space App Store, which will allow clients to buy data or equipment time from each other.

“EnduroSat is the kind of company that really contributes to a number of policy priorities,” says Luis Cervera Lozano, the investment officer at the European Investment Bank who worked on the deal. “It’s an innovative, small company working in the strategic space sector and that’s been affected by the pandemic. It’s really a deal that ticks many boxes relevant to the Bank.”

EU space priorities

Space industries are a strategic priority for the European Union. The sector, once dominated by state-backed entities, is undergoing considerable change as technological advancements allow new, private companies to enter the market. The European Commission estimates that the European space economy, which includes manufacturing and services, employs over 230,000 professionals and in 2017 was estimated to be worth around €53-62 billion.

According to the European Space Agency, every euro invested in the space sector returns an average of six euros to the economy, making the sector essential for growth, competitiveness and high-tech employment. Moreover, space technology in orbit and applications on Earth have the potential to provide competitive advantages in a large number of industries including maritime, aviation, agriculture, natural resource management, insurance, financial trading and logistics. Space technologies are also vital for monitoring climate change and natural disasters such as forest fires.

The Bank has supported the space sector since the 1980s, mainly with sizeable loans to large European satellite operators or rocket launchers. Since 2020, it has also supported emerging “New Space” scale-ups with venture debt in the EU, with the first loans to Spire Global (Luxembourg) and D-Orbit (Italy); EnduroSat (Bulgaria) represents the third space company in the Bank’s venture debt portfolio.

In addition to providing financing, the European Investment Bank is supporting the development of a European New Space sector through its Advisory Services, in collaboration with the European Commission. The EIB Space Finance Lab connects space companies and financiers, helping companies tap into EIB and other patient capital sources.

“It’s fantastic to see the EIB interested in the space sector because it’s an area that is set to play a bigger role every year,” says Raychev at EnduroSat “We live in a globalised world where many exciting sectors of the economy depend heavily on space data. Space is already a strategic sector and will only create more jobs and a better future for everyone. The fact that the Bank is looking at this is really encouraging. Over the next few years we’ll be scaling up our market presence and hopefully proving that a strong, innovative space company can come out of Central and Eastern Europe.”