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French Startup Gama Raises $2.2 Million to Develop Solar Sails

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 28, 2022
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PARIS (Gama PR) — Gama, a French aerospace company, has raised 2 million euros [USD $2.2 million] with the French Public Investment Bank (BPI), the French Space Agency (CNES) and leading international angel investors to deploy a solar sail in space and revolutionize space transportation.

A solar sail allows a spacecraft to be powered solely by sunlight. This new propulsion technology enables speeds never reached before to explore our Solar System and beyond.

This first round of funding will finance a demonstration mission: the deployment of a solar sail from a satellite launched by SpaceX. Other missions will follow.

Gama, from dream to reality

Sailing effortlessly through space has long been in the dreams of many. Kepler first theorized the possibility in a 1608 letter to Galilei, and the idea of propelling a spacecraft solely by the action of the Sun was further developed in the 1970s. Louis de Gouyon Matignon and Thibaud Elziere met in 2020 to turn the concept into reality.

“In 1999, I wrote my school thesis on solar sails in partnership with French Space Agency (CNES) researchers. Since then, the passion has never left me and I had only one obsession, to go from theory to practice. In 2020, I contacted a research group in France, the U3P (Union pour la Promotion de la Propulsion Photonique), who put me in touch with Louis, a young entrepreneur with the same dream” says Thibaud Elziere, Gama co-founder.

Andrew Nutter, a space enthusiast and investor in numerous technology companies, quickly joined as the third co-founder. Today, in addition to the three founders, Gama has a team of a dozen engineers working to develop the sail and the software to control it.

A revolutionary technology: photonic propulsion

Solar sails rely on photonic propulsion. This form of propulsion uses the pressure produced by photons when they bounce off a reflective surface. This force is weak, but when applied to large surfaces, can induce non-negligible effects.

In the void of space, with no air friction, a continuous force (even a small one) applied to a spacecraft induces a constant acceleration and continuously increases its speed” says Jordan Culeux, technically leading the first mission.

Similar to maritime sailing, it is the position of the sail in relation to the rays of the Sun that will determine the trajectory of the craft. As with a conventional sail, it is therefore possible to move away from the Sun but also to get closer by sailing “upwind”.

Exploration of deep space

Unlike conventional chemical or electric propulsion systems that need to carry fuel, photonic propulsion draws energy purely from the Sun. Spacecraft using this form of propulsion are thus less massive and can be accelerated continuously with a virtually infinite source of energy. This enables missions to reach more distant objectives at significantly lower cost. These characteristics make it possible to envisage new commercial or scientific missions to explore and even exploit resources in our Solar System.

“This is an emerging technology and there have only been a handful of successful solar sail projects so far. It is attracting the interest of the major space agencies and we are aware that NASA and JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) are working on similar projects”, says Louis de Gouyon Matignon, Gama co-founder.

2 million euros to finance the first mission

Gama has raised 2 million euros [USD $2.2 million] from the French public investment bank (BPI), the CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales), and serial entrepreneurs and space investors such as Nicolas Pinto (Apple), Marie Outtier (Twitter), Possible Ventures, Kima Ventures or Romain Afflelou (Cosmo Connected). This round of financing makes it possible to fund the first mission of Gama.

“Private companies are proving that space innovation can happen fast, unlocking vast commercial opportunities. We are delighted to have the support of the BPI, the CNES and some illustrious Business Angels to reach an important milestone. This mission will be followed by a second launch in 2024 at a higher altitude to deploy a larger sail and demonstrate control and the onboard navigation system. In 2025, we will become one of the very few to explore further, at significantly lower cost, with a mission to Venus”, concludes Andrew Nutter, Gama co-founder.

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