Author - Jess Baudry
Zero-gravity research facilitator and biotech firm Yuri expects to launch its first ScienceTaxi into space in early 2024, incubation technology that was developed in Luxembourg.
Yuri’s Mark Kugel is holding the fort during the holiday season. Before I start to feel too sorry for him, he explains that part of his job is attending launches, which are usually located close to the ocean. “It’s horrible doing those business trips to Cape Canaveral, surfing during the day and then launching rockets at night,” he jokes. Kugel’s last trip, in March, gave him and his 12-month-old daughter a front-row seat of a SpaceX launch with a payload from the University of Luxembourg. A “pretty epic” experience as business trips go.
With the German startup at a pivotal point in its business development, it’s understandable that holidays may not be a top priority. In July 2023, the firm signed a binding agreement with Sierra Space to transport Yuri’s ScienceTaxi on its Dream Chaser rockets.
Yuri’s technology, which was engineered in Luxembourg, offers modular incubation systems for zero gravity life science experiments, offering up to 2 billion different combinations of sub-components. Roughly the size of a microwave oven, these systems can hold up to 38 bioreactors allowing customers to autonomously conduct zero-gravity experiments in space. “They are compatible with all the space stations and spacecraft that are currently being developed, from Axiom from Blue Origin and Sierra space,” says Kugel.
Aiming For 10 Missions Per Year
The ScienceTaxi system was tested on a parabolic flight in France in May, the results of which were successful. Its maiden flight in space, on board a SpaceX Dragon capsule, is now scheduled for Q1 or Q2 of 2024. “We will show for the first time that the world can do life science research in space beyond the ISS,” says Kugel. The payloads, a combination of customer and Yuri’s experiments will remain in orbit for 30 to 40 days before returning to Earth. Once the mission is completed, the hope is to increase orders tenfold with the mid-term goal of facilitating at least ten missions per year.
“We will show for the first time that the world can do life science research in space beyond the ISS” Mark Kugel
Ultimately, the ideal scenario would be to have the ScienceTaxi shuttling back and forth every two weeks, enabling customers to access zero-gravity research facilities as easily as facilities on Earth.
Space Station Golden Era
Yuri’s timing has been impeccable. With the ISS soon to be decommissioned, scores of companies have mushroomed in recent years focusing on space station infrastructure and transport. The market for equipping these stations is somewhat less cluttered, particularly for synthetic biotechnology research. Here, Yuri has found a customer base by leveraging demand from pharmaceutical and chemical industries for microbes and proteins adapted in space to create biocatalysts or improve processes on Earth. The fact that Yuri is itself carrying out biotech research meant that efficiency and cost-effectiveness were central to the Science Taxi design.
“When we started the company, we saw the market was pretty old space, government-driven with cost-plus contracts […] so that everyone has an incentive to keep costs high to make more profit,” says Kugel, adding: “We do reusability. We do modularity and we want to do it as cost-efficiently as possible.” Through Yuri’s design, Kugel estimates that his firm has brought down the cost of bringing biology to space by ten times.
And it is not only the pharmaceutical and chemical industries that are interested. Earlier in the summer Yuri was invited to Blue Origin’s headquarters to discuss potential partnerships. “The surprising thing is that those space station companies now approach us and ask to purchase or partner with us with the facility because they have the kind of make or buy decision,” says Kugel.
Currently, with a team of 35 located at its missions centre in Germany, engineering hub in Luxembourg, a biotech lab in Spain and in the US, Yuri has customers in 22 countries spanning four continents. Since launching in 2019, the company has successfully raised €4.3m from US and Europe investors specialising in biotech, among them the CEO of science and technology company Merck. Starting in the autumn, Yuri wants to raise €10m to fund its next activities.
Article courtesy of our content partner Silicon Luxembourg