An Interview with Adrià Argemí, Co-Founder and CEO of Pangea Aerospace
Astropreneurs: Please tell us about Pangea Aerospace, its current development status, and your role in the company.
Adrià Argemí: Pangea Aerospace is a Barcelona-based startup developing technology for microlaunchers. We are currently working on two technologies: one dealing with the propulsion system, and the other one with a recovery system. In the future our development plan is to build a microlauncher able to carry up to 150 kg to LEO. In order to do so, we are developing an aerospike engine, which is different from the conventional bell nozzle. The reason why we have focused on this is because this type of engine could be up to 10 to 12 percent more efficient, even 15 percent more performing than the conventional ones. Nowadays it is possible to manufacture them thanks to 3D printing.
The second technology we are developing is the recovery system for the first stage, which has already been invented and patented, consisting in an innovative system that might result in an easier way to recover and land the first stage of a microlauncher. We are now very focused on developing these two key technologies, since these will be a good differentiator from the competition for our future rocket.
My role in the company is the CEO. I am an aerospace engineer, I follow the technical development of my colleagues, but right now my job is more linked to spreading the word about the company, trying to get more deals in terms of investments, partnerships, and even clients for our in-development specific technologies.
Astropreneurs: How did you come up with the idea and how did you develop the company?
Adrià Argemí: The idea came four years ago, from myself. I have always been a nerd of propulsion and I knew the aerospike concept because I studied it during my university years. I thought it was worth trying and pushing more and more into that direction, so I designed a first demonstrator with the ideas on the technology I had in mind. At that time, I was working for Airbus as a propulsion performance engineer for aeronautical engines. I decided to quit my job and try to create a company with those two ideas in mind. Since I was alone, I decided to enroll myself in a master’s degree about space transportation systems, with the idea of going there and getting to know some engineers. Now they are my partners and my technical team: two Italians, one in the mechanical department and one in the propulsion one, and a Swedish responsible for the recovery part.
A company just made of engineers could be a good technical company, but potentially not the best in terms of selling or fundraising. That is why I convinced an old friend, who attended a business school, to join us to structure the company and help us getting fundraised. Nowadays we are a team of eight people and we expect to close the year being around 12.
Astropreneurs: Back to the innovations you are bringing to the New Space market, what is the benefit for the space sector?
Adrià Argemí: The industry is changing very fast, the market and the sector itself is privatizing in a very fast pace thanks to large investments. Regarding the propulsion system, we aim at increasing the engine efficiency. Obviously, it has its cons, its drawbacks. It is very complex to design this type of engines, but we want to demonstrate they are possible, and once we do it, it will show that there is a way to innovate in the space sector.
The space sector unfortunately is very conservative, of course I can understand why, costs are simply giant, and timelines are everlasting. A lot of startups are coming out, doing it quicker. 3D printing is the key enabler for us. Without 3D printing, this type of engine is doable but very complex. Thanks to this manufacturing process you are reducing the number of pieces and the lead time. Designing, manufacturing and assembling an engine conventionally could take several years, now we are talking about months. A lot of things are changing, so we want to demonstrate with our aerospike engine that it’s possible. We want to give that opportunity, in this case, to European launchers. Being innovative and improving European engines are part of our goals.
Our second objective aside efficiency is reusability. Our motto is ‘Rethink. Reuse.’ We set reusability as a design variable. Big companies have already shown to the world it is possible to recover a falling dart from the sky, control it in a certain manner and reuse it. It makes sense to reuse some parts of the rocket, not only to be cool, but also sustainable, with proven technical and economic benefits. Europe is late on the reusability race and we want to be one of the actors pushing reusability forward.
Astropreneurs: So, do you really think reusability is profitable?
Adrià Argemí: Of course, our studies and scenarios say that if we reuse our first stage more than three times it shows you are gaining launch after launch. Bear in mind that, a first stage that could be reused nine times, if you want to reuse it for the tenth time, then you do not make it to return and increase its payload. There are lot of possibilities linked to business needs and your clients. Reusability is definitely profitable, although not so easy.
Astropreneurs: Digging into your webpage, the microlauncher you plan to provide launch service with is called Meso. Why did you choose this name?
Adrià Argemí: When I had to convince my partners to join me and venture into this business, we had to find a name that really represented all of us. We were from Italy, Sweden, and Spain. Different countries and different cultures, with a single shared goal: founding a space startup, developing technology, and trying to push the knowledge in that sector a little bit further. Pangea, from the ancient Greek, pan means ‘all’ and gea ‘Earth’, giving name to the supercontinent before it was split into the current seven continents, which were united for the same purpose. We took this analogy between us and, since we are entering a new era into space, the so-called New Space, why not Pangea, as it was the first brick of Earth. We want to be the first brick of space. And why Meso? Because Pangea was born during the Mesozoic era, hoping to open a new era with our brand new microlauncher.
Astropreneurs: How would you say your product contributes to the disruption of New Space and the emergence of upcoming mega-constellations?
Adrià Argemí: Looking to the whole picture, mega-constellations are nowadays booming: from IoT to 5G, whatever space application. There are lots of satellite companies. Microlaunchers will ease their access to space, since flexibility is needed. Of course, you can fit a lot of tiny satellites into a big launcher. We cannot beat the price per kilo thanks to economies of scale though. However, if one of those tiny satellites would break in the future, you cannot wait for the launcher capacity to be filled to go and replace it. You need to be quick, you cannot wait for months, even years, because you are losing money every second. We think with the reusable microlauncher we will enable that flexibility to be a reality. We do not want to be linked, for instance, to a spaceport like it has been done until now. Nowadays there are several private entities aiming at building private spaceports in Kiruna (Sweden), Andoya (Norway), Sutherland (Scotland) and even in the Azores (Portugal). What we want in the future is not to be linked to a spaceport but choose the launch side in function of the client’s needs. All those mega-constellations will benefit from the microlauncher sector, given its low prices enabled by lower costs. Additionally, we do not want to close ourselves to mega-constellations clients, we want to be able to provide service for rideshare or tailored missions. Mega-constellations are very trendy nowadays, but it is not the only type of client that is out there.
Astropreneurs: What resources are the most important to get your idea off the ground?
Adrià Argemí: Of course, people are the main resource you need. Money as well, but you do not go anywhere without people. In our experience, people is what turns an idea into a business, how you go from zero to one. From one onwards it could be more an issue of money. You need trustworthy people with a creative mindset, since working in a startup is not the same as working for a large company. I would say the main resource is people, without a doubt. You also need money for sure, and this kind of project needs a lot of money compared to other sectors. The space sector is not that big in terms of actors, it does not have that large amount of companies working on it, but it creates a lot of value. You need a lot of money to develop some meaningful work in our case.
Astropreneurs: Have you found any specific resource particularly helpful, be either an accelerator, incubator, or business angel?
Adrià Argemí: Until now we have been in MediaTIC, an incubator from Barcelona Activa, related to Barcelona’s city hall. The reason why we came here is because when we founded the company in February 2018, we did not know how to start a company indeed. We had some experience working, but never entrepreneurship itself. We started googling where to go, to be completely honest, and we found this program, a program dedicated to high-technology startups. We conducted a little interview with the manager. Obviously, they don’t receive people aiming to build rockets every day. They liked our proposal and that is how we are here right now. We receive good insights and inputs about fundraising, how to structure a team, and what can happen in case of failure, among others. We are very happy to be here. We also found one of our very first investors, who believed in us when we barely had some slides on a presentation. We appreciate this kind of people you can rely on.
Astropreneurs: Has Spain been a good country for starting a space company?
Adrià Argemí: Huh. Good question. I must rely on my personal experience here, being from Barcelona myself. Our singular objectives, coupled with the lack of aerospace companies in the city could play a lot when it comes to media news and recruitment. We look forward to welcoming lot of people from different nationalities and backgrounds, as well as increasing the space sector presence in Barcelona. I would say it has been very helpful to be in Barcelona till now. Zooming out, Spain currently has a powerful space sector in general. It has increased more and more its capabilities and skills. Currently, Spain is about to decide to increase the ESA budget, being the 5th largest Member State contributing to ESA. I would say Spain has a bright future in the space sector, and I think it is a good moment to be in its space sector.
Astropreneurs: What were the main difficulties you experienced so far, and what is the key ingredient to overcome them?
Adrià Argemí: I would say hiring. Personally, I thought it would be easier to hire. We want good people entering the company and it is a long process to get to know the people that potentially could work with you. How you overcome this is putting more hours, more people to interview, and working with other companies that do the hiring. One of the key things here on how to do something is trying to have a bigger vision. I do not want to get into keywords. It is true that being a startup, since you must do a lot of stuff by yourself, you get to do it quicker. Try not to overcomplicate things and keep it simple. Trust people and share information with your colleagues as well. If you try to solve a problem on your own, that is not going to work.
Astropreneurs: Which is your long term vision of the company? Where would you like your company to be in five years’ time?
Adrià Argemí: Our long-term vision is to help revolutionize the access to space. Nowadays a lot of people is willing to create lots of those mega-constellations. Scientists are developing new tools, new experiments, and payloads to put into space. And they are all facing the same problem, it’s too expensive and it takes too long to put their thing into space to do science, satellite communications or whatsoever. We hope to help those people to get up there with our technologies. Our vision is to build a microlauncher able to be fast and flexible. In my belief, launches will become something common, everyone will hear about them and know what a rocket is.
And why not, maybe in the future a family of microlaunchers. By 2025 we plan to be ready to launch: in five years’ time our key technologies must have already been demonstrated by means of subscale tests and tested in real conditions, just ready to put on a rocket and launch it.
Astropreneurs: Do you also envision this family of launchers to play a role in the future of exploration?
Adrià Argemí: I share the vision with those who think that humankind will have to leave Earth at some point. Not in the sense of never coming back, but we will have to settle in the Moon and in Mars sooner or later. You need to have bigger rockets to reach these planets. Everyone will have its piece of the cake if everything plays correctly. Why not having this family of launchers in the future to serve those new needs?
Astropreneurs: Finally, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs who aspire to start their own business in the space sector?
Adrià Argemí: Yet again, finding the correct team. One of the things my colleagues and I know is that we cannot do it alone. You need a lot of help and good advisors that you could talk to. Do not try to do everything in house, because it is impossible to have all the expertise in the world. Find the correct people, people you are really aligned with on the long-term vision and then rely on them. From my little experience in entrepreneurship, trusting your team is essential. If your ideas are good enough, you will find smart people that will follow you for sure.
Posted by Oscar Lafuente Arjona