OT Interviews: Five Questions with Exobotics CEO Nadeem Gabbani13th Oct 2022
Exobotics has been making news in 2022. The company announced that it has a GBP 4 million order book firmed up, and opened a new engineering center in Chiswick, London. The company is firmly in the set of New Space companies rising in the UK, with a product range that helps fill out the industry’s ecosystem. Moreover, the Exobotics team under CEO and founder Nadeem Gabbani have embraced a mindset that enables companies to follow their own ideas regarding satellites and space. Orbital Today spoke with Nadeem Gabbani about the changes in the UK space industry since the company was founded in 2018.
OT: When did the idea behind the company begin to crystalize and what pushed you to say, “Let’s do this”?
NG: At first, I didn’t think this was a thing you could get paid to do. It started as a student project, while I was at Cambridge but I quickly saw that it needed a commercial approach. At the time, there were a lot of projects looking at going to the Moon for one reason or another, but the companies involved lacked expertise in space, much less an idea as to how to go about a lunar operation.
What we found were a lot of companies outside of the space industry who were accepting of our in-depth expertise. In the end, it was too early for the lunar project that got us started, and there was no true business case. But it didn’t discourage us, because of the demand we’d uncovered.
There were and still are people from outside the industry who were interested in the fact that putting up a satellite of less than 20kg now costs millions instead of 10s of millions of pounds. And these companies were looking for a partner who could help them in certain ways. The process had to be:
- fast, it couldn’t take 3-5 years;
- easy, as in working even from a one-page project description;
- of value, and that cost is important.
So we said, “Let’s help the market get ready to be on the Moon; let’s help companies get into space in the first place.”
Nadeem Gabbani on the UK Space equipment market
OT: Do you feel that the UK’s space equipment market is changing as a whole, that Exobotics is a part of a shift away from the image people have of almost handcrafted satellites, or are you pushing the envelope and hoping the market will catch up?
NG: The market has changed quite a bit, and there are more companies looking at projects involving space, but they just don’t know how to go about it. So, what we did as the lunar projects closed, was that we looked at what companies wanting to send a payload into space would need, and indeed, what we ourselves needed.
So we started building equipment to fill those needs. Our first product was a desktop thermal vacuum system. Thermal vacuum testing is something that you should always do with a satellite, and it’s the most important test that can be done during development. And currently, it’s a time consuming process that can cost thousands of dollars a day. Our systems cost the equivalent of a few days of testing.
By doing that, we achieved more than saving our customers money. What we did was we brought thermal vacuum testing in-house, into the product development life cycle. Moreover, in doing so, we gave people the capacity to be self-sufficient.
OT: Your test and environmental equipment aren’t what most people think of when it comes to manufacturing for the space industry. Are other industry players waking up to the need to drive down costs and increase flexibility along the pipeline?
NG: As I said before, one thing we noticed is that there are companies saying, “We want to test this out, but we don’t know how.” And along with that is a need to work quickly and with the business case in mind. So we placed a focus on being their in-house development team. By looking at it that way, we help improve their business case. We’ve also brought a lot of de-risking in-house for companies, and not only with the thermal vacuum system and vibration test equipment. We worked on one project, where we went starting from a one-page set of requirements, and got the project done with them in 10 months.
On the one hand, here’s the hard business case that needs to be kept in mind, but the interest created by the possibilities brought on by recent technology has brought about a small space renaissance. Space is getting exciting again, and the new capabilities from today’s satellites impact our daily lives. What excites people these days is the opportunity in space, both in orbit and on the Moon.
OT: Do you see anything in the legal framework specifically for space industry companies that needs to be updated or changed? Perhaps new regulation or the clarification of old classifications? Does the government “get” space?
NG: It used to be that practically everything was close to prohibited, but steadily over the last 10 years or so, they’ve made a lot of improvements. This covers many areas such as getting insurance and certifications.
The US is quite far ahead in this regard. There are different paths for certification and permissions such as those for communications, depending on the purpose of the satellite. The United Kingdom’s working hard at getting there, though.
OT: What’s your prognosis for the space industry in the UK in particular? Will domestic launches drive the industry, either in volume or innovation?
NG: The industry is thriving, and the support is pretty good. The clusters across the UK are helping with grants and financing, and innovate-and-pay schemes. For example, one of the first things we did when we pivoted toward test equipment was apply for a grant from Cornwall Space Cluster. We received a GBP 250,000 grant that went to developing the thermal vacuum test system.
Education is slowly changing. It’s really hard to find the right people for the industry at the moment.
Orbital Today would like to thank Nadeem Gabbani for taking the time to share his vision with us.