From a science-business cooperation project, Creotech Instruments has grown into a major player in the space industry and one of the fastest-developing companies in Europe in just a handful of years. Currently, the firm employs 70 people, operating as a joint stock company since 2012. It has been part of a number of high-caliber space projects, from searching for life on Mars, studying the mysterious Gamma radiation flashes in the upper atmosphere through to tracking potentially dangerous objects in Earth’s vicinity and the so-called space trash in the planet’s orbit. WBJ talked to Jacek Kosiec, head of the Space Program at Creotech Instruments, about the company’s current and future endeavors
Interview by Beata Socha
WBJ: Creotech was one of 20 Polish companies that made it into the FT1000 ranking – the list of the top 1,000 fastest developing European companies. Given that the company is relatively young (since 2012 it has been operating as a joint stock company) how have you managed to cover such a distance so quickly in an industry that just a few years ago seemed out of reach?
Jacek Kosiec: The space industry has traditionally been reserved for large corporations originating from state-owned aviation-defense conglomerates. Designing, constructing and launching a large telecom satellite costs hundreds of millions of euros and requires a major industrial supply network. Reaching a level where space projects are possible takes years.
However, the industry has been changing rapidly over the past few years. Thanks to the technological revolution we are currently witnessing, sending cargo into space is now much cheaper and the ongoing miniaturization of electronics allows for the same tasks to be performed with much smaller devices. This has lowered the threshold for new space companies to enter the market.
Creotech’s rapid growth has also been facilitated by the ever-growing revenue in upstream projects, that is undertakings resulting in something being launched into space. Our company has grown from a niche of advanced measuring equipment, to now being used by the biggest labs in the world. Another important component of our business is the use of satellite data. Thanks to two large projects carried out for the European Space Agency, Creotech is becoming one of European leaders in designing and developing modern IT environments for efficient satellite data storage and processing.
Are Creotech’s products already out there in space?
The energy supply and distribution systems our company manufactured are right now powering the camera doing the imaging of Mars’ surface in the ExoMars mission. We also created a sensor installed on the ASIM instrument, which was fitted on the International Space Station a few weeks ago.
The ASIM project was the first space order for our company. If it wasn’t for the trust that the Space Research Centre (part of a Danish-led consortium responsible for the project) placed in the young and inexperienced company from Piaseczno back in 2012 when ordering it to manufacture the power supply system for the MXGS instrument for the ASIM mission, Creotech would not be where it is today. This goes to show how important it is to stimulate innovative businesses in high-tech industries at the early stages of their development.
In December 2017, Creotech signed a contract with the ESA for PLN 60 million – the largest deal for a Polish space company to date. What is the agreement for?
Until recently, you had to pay to get access to the data from satellite Earth monitoring, which was done by massive satellites owned by major corporations and the governments of space race leaders. Then a breakthrough happened when the first satellites from the Sentinel family were launched in 2014.
The tender for four hubs that would store the data from the Sentinel satellite constelation concluded in the second half of 2017 and on December 14, 2017, four consortia signed agreements at the European Commission’s HQ in Brussels. One of the winning consortia was our company. The value of the deal is PLN 60 million and the project spans four years. The system will be fully operational within six months of signing the deal. The Creotech-led consortium, which is responsible for the EO DIAS project, includes: CloudFerro, Geomatys, Outsourcing Partner, Sinergise and The Wroclaw Institute of Spatial Information and Artificial Intelligence (WIZIPISI).
Several months ago, Creotech also signed a contract with Finnish company ICEYE. What technologies will it deliver?
About a year ago, Creotech signed a deal with ICEYE to fit electronics onto the first SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite. The Finnish company is the world leader in SAR technology applications for microsatellites. It has designed a cutting-edge Synthetic Aperture Radar as well as an array of electronic systems for the entire satellite constellation, which will allow for fast and reliable access to Earth observation data.
Creotech was responsible for the fitting of electronic modules onto the first satellite in the series. The cooperation was going so well that the Finnish firm decided to take it to the next level. For the past few months we have been manufacturing cable harnesses designed specifically for space deployment. There are several dozens of these harnesses and each is a separate project with different types of connectors, both for power supply and data transmission, both digital and radio-analog. They are designed to connect individual subsystems onboard the satellite.
Creotech is also responsible for thermal insulation of the satellites in the ICEYE constellation. Each multi-layered insulation element, designed specifically for satellite parts, is formed from special materials that meet the highest quality standards. They are expensive to produce and they need to fit each satellite element perfectly while maintaining the necessary elasticity.
Space tech is not the only groundbreaking technology that Creotech is developing. You are also working on quantum computers. What are they and when can we expect to see them put to widespread use?
The needs of the nascent “quantum industry” are well aligned with the demands of high-reliability electronics that we manufacture for our clients. In quantum computers of the future, precise control and gauging circuits will play a major role in verifying the state of the spin and controlling the entire device. Our company has a lot of experience in designing this type of circuit for high energy physics and the space industry. Building our competence in quantum computing is an important direction for our company’s development.
What other projects is Creotech involved in?
One of the endeavors we have high hopes for is the HyperSat project, which is a modular, universal platform, equipped with specialized instruments allowing for a wide spectrum of space missions: from radio and telecommunications through optoelectronic and radar observation.
We plan to sell HyperSat satellites to both domestic and international clients. The project is slated to take three years, which means that we could see the first HyperSat satellites in orbit by the end of 2020.
The HyperSat system will be an open one. The platform will be compatible with the most common modules for pico- and nano-class satellites, and most importantly it will also be able to communicate with larger instruments. This will create an opportunity for other players in the Polish space industry. We want the project to facilitate the development of not only our company, but also provide a stimulus for the entire Polish space sector and – more broadly – the Polish innovative industry.
What are the next big steps for Creotech?
Space projects are complex endeavors that take many companies and many years to implement. Creotech aims to become the integrator of entire space missions, which means combining all the components for a space instrument, testing its systems and prepping it for the intrepid journey into orbit. This is something only the most experienced companies can do, with all the proper equipment, industrial infrastructure and excellent staff.
Head of the Space Program