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The evolution of Dragonfly Aerospace from camera manufacturer to microsatellite manufacturer

Dragonfly Aerospace, which is best renowned for its high-resolution cameras rather than spacecraft, received a huge push in April when it got sold to Max Polyakov, a serial entrepreneur.

The agreement would assist Dragonfly Aerospace in South Africa create satellite buses and upgrade its facilities, where it expects to construct up to 48 satellites every year, focused on the 100-to-300-kilogram class.

On the side-lines of the Space Symposium, SpaceNews spoke with Eugene Yakovlev, Dragonfly Aerospace’s chief business officer, to discover more about the company’s plans.

Do you intend to manufacture whole microsatellites in-house?

The bulk of the satellite’s components will be manufactured in-house. With the exception of the solar panels, everything is in good working order. We’ll also look into the potential of producing these in-house, but that will come later.

Do you already have a solar panel supply arrangement with a third-party vendor?

It is, indeed, a European manufacturer.

And when do you think you’ll be able to ramp up to 48 satellites every year?

We can deliver this many satellites every year from our plant in South Africa because of the size of cleanrooms we’ve developed and the in-house environmental test equipment. The only problem is that we don’t have enough customers, so we’re concentrating on business development right now. Our first satellite will be launched next year.

After that, we’ll take the serial manufacture of high-resolution cameras, satellites and components more seriously.

Who is the first satellite’s customer?

At this time, we are not providing that information.

What is the short-term objective?

Currently, we plan to launch 10 satellites per year for the next 5 years. We’re putting in orders for three satellites for next year.

Is the idea to deploy satellites first for imagery business EOSDA (EOS Data Analytics) and others controlled by Noosphere investment vehicle of Polyakov?

We’re in talks with a number of companies and hope to announce several agreements in the coming months.

What type of help do you get from the government of South Africa?

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and we are discussing their future objectives. They are ecstatic with the capabilities we are developing and what we have accomplished thus far. We don’t have any current ventures coming from South Africa right now, but we’re collaborating extensively with the SANSA agency and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which both have intriguing initiatives in the works that we’d like to be a part of.

Not only are you up against established manufacturing powerhouses, but you’ll also be up against relatively new startups striving to gain flight heritage. What strategy will you use to carve out your niche?

It will undoubtedly be difficult, but we feel we are equal to the task. Due to our NewSpace strategy to business and technology agility, we have an edge over traditional businesses. Because we manufacture the bulk of the components in-house, the price and mass of our systems will be far lower than those of established companies. Our staff has more than 20 years of expertise designing and launching multiple high-performance imaging satellites, which gives us an advantage over the other NewSpace operators. This will permit us to speed up the development of our technology while other NewSpace players continue to learn their experiences in space. We’ve already found clients that believe in us, and we’ll launch next year to have our new platform as well as payload flight-qualified. That, I believe, will rapidly elevate us from a minor participant to a market force.

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