February 1, 2023

SpaceX challenger raises €40m to build Europe’s first reusable rocket

The Exploration Company climbs to new heights, with European spacetech’s biggest ever Series A

Éanna Kelly

4 min read

Source: The Exploration Company

The Exploration Company, a spacetech near Munich, today announced €40m in new funding as the startup moves closer to creating Europe’s first reusable rocket. 

Like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the dominant player in global space launch, the German rocket manufacturer aims to design, manufacture and launch a recoverable capsule, dubbed Nyx, to carry cargo into space, resupply space stations and, in time, transport humans. 

The Exploration Company was founded in 2021 and is planning a first flight later this year for its “baby” capsule demo; successively larger “teenager” and “adult” versions of Nyx will be developed over the next few years.


“America has reusable capsules. China has reusable capsules. Europe has no [equivalent] capsules. It’s quite important we have the capacity to do this,” says cofounder and CEO Hélène Huby. 

“Nyx is the first space capsule to be privately funded, the first to use green propellants and the first to open source its operating system,” Huby adds. When built, the “adult” capsule will be a similar size to SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle. 

Record Series A

The Series A funding round — a record amount raised for a European spacetech — was led by VC firms EQT Ventures and Red River West. Other backers include Promus Ventures, Cherry Ventures, Vsquared and Omnes Capital. Before today’s announcement, the startup had raised €6.8m, according to Crunchbase, which tracks private investment data.

The stakes are high. Slowing economic growth and rising interest rates threaten to reduce the number of deals we’ll see this year in spacetech. And while all manner of space pursuits — from internet beaming satellites and earth observation tech — have investors’ attention right now, VC funding for the sector dipped below $1bn in Europe in 2022, after a record $2.5bn raised in 2021, according to data gathered by Dealroom. 

By comparison, SpaceX raised more than $2bn alone in 2022, including a $250m round in July, and was valued at $127bn during an equity round in May. The company plans to raise a further $750m this year. 

Getting away from expendable rockets will probably be a long quest of trial and error for The Exploration Company, as it was for SpaceX. Huby says a rocket startup “is a 20-25 year plan. Space is hard, it takes time. But we’re making history here.”

The idea is for its capsules to eventually serve private space stations, which are expected to replace the International Space Station (ISS), for which funding is set to lapse after 2030. The German company says its capsules could also be a future “last mile” delivery service between moon bases. 

The Exploration Company’s ambition

Huby says it costs around €75k per kilo to take cargo to the ISS today — the Exploration Company wants to eventually do a trip like this for around one third of that figure. 

The company hopes to reduce the cost of its operations by flying capsules up to five times (which is around the number SpaceX manages with its rockets, but after three or four violent launches, things start to break a bit).

It also wants to use green propellant which, as the name suggests, isn’t as toxic as conventional rocket fuel (“If you smell [that] you’re dead,” says Huby). 


Ten years ago, all of this was absurd. Until SpaceX showed up, rocket rides were ludicrously expensive. But by 2012, the American company had become the first to dock a private cargo spacecraft with the ISS. In 2020, the company flew two astronauts to the space station, returning NASA to human spaceflight for the first time in nine years.

‘4,000 applications last year’

As well as covering operation costs, the new funding will allow the company to hire more people. But is it difficult to attract engineers, when competing against the lucrative contracts offered by SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company?

“We had 4,000 applications last year. We don’t have a recruiting problem,” says Huby. “And we’ve been able to attract people who’ve worked at SpaceX or Blue Origin.” Also, she adds, American laws mean non-Americans can't work on rockets for US companies, so there’s a pool of “frustrated” engineers to recruit from. 

A job offer at The Exploration Company “is a chance at history. We’ve been falling behind in Europe. We haven’t made history in a while.”

Éanna Kelly

Éanna Kelly is a contributing editor at Sifted. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn