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Startup Spotlight: With €5.2M funding, spacetech AIRMO to launch a satellite to fight climate change

Image credit: AIRMO

Munich-based AIRMO, a startup working at the intersection of climate and spacetech, has confirmed a pre-seed investment of €5.2 million. The round was led by Christian Federspiel, a well-known spacetech investor, and was joined by Ananda Impact Ventures, Pi-Labs, E2MC and Antler. The funding will see Airmo double its team and put it on track to launch its first satellite in late-2024 or early-2025.

Harriet von Kügelgen, one of AIRMO’s co-founders and chief commercial officer, joined TFN to tell us about the company’s history, its plans, and how its technology will play a significant role in the fight against climate change.

A founding team of space and sustainability experts

If it was possible to have a co-founding team that is almost over-qualified, then AIRMO might be it. Von Kügelgen’s background may be business focused, but she has always worked in businesses with a climate or sustainability angle. “I studied international business and carbon management,” she said. “And I worked in different sustainability-related companies, including Tesla. Back then, they were one of the few companies that managed to make a sustainable product actually sexy and desirable. I have always had a perspective of commercialising sustainability.”

The other co-founders are CEO Daria Stepanova, who had previously worked at German Orbital Systems, and Chief Operating Officer Pavals Razmajevs, who had worked at Eventech, a company that specialised in picosecond-accurate timing technology that is essential for spaceflight and satellites. But their collective space experience is more than doubled by the addition of their fourth co-founder, Dr Errico Armandillo. “Errico has worked at the European Space Agency for more than thirty years,” says von Kügelgen. “He is the leading expert in Europe on LIDAR, which is the USP of our company.”

Light Detection and Ranging, or LIDAR, measures the time taken for a laser to reflect from a surface. Its most simple application is to create accurate 3D scans. But when combined with other technology and equipment, for example a spectrometer and AIRMO’s proprietary technology, it can tell us a lot more, such as identifying greenhouse gas emissions.

Finding super-emitter leaks from above

“We focus on methane because it has much higher global warming potential,” Kügelgen explains. “At the same time, methane emissions are much harder to measure. CO₂ emissions come from combustion processes, so you know that one unit of production will also proceed the same amount of CO₂.” However, most methane emissions come from leaks. One recent leak near Turkmenistan released 427 tonnes of methane an hour into the atmosphere, having the same impact as the emissions of the whole of France during that time. However, methods for finding leaks, which might be anywhere along thousands of miles of pipeline in remote locations, are slow.

“If there’s a leak, someone has to stand next to it with a hand-held measurement device,” von Kügelgen explained. “Of course, the ESA and NASA are also trying to measure emissions for scientific purposes, but their accuracy is not high enough to identify emissions on a source levels”. And that is where AIRMO fills a gap, using their technology to identify emission sources with a high degree of accuracy, so leaks are identified quickly, helping the relevant industry quickly repair the issue, and avoid both lost revenue and harm to the climate.

A new, commercial, space age

AIRMO plans to be pioneers of the commercial space age. “The European Space Agency is backing us, which is awesome,” von Kügelgen says, reflecting that it means they are doing something unique and not replicating the work of traditional space agencies. However, she also notes the importance of the private partners they have and are attracting. “We are mainly targeting the oil and gas industry. And I think this is what really differentiates us. If you only look from the space perspective, and what can we all do with space tech, that is the means to the end, but the end is creating a product that adds value for the customer.”

It was this potential that Antler saw early on. Antler partner, Alan Poensgen, said, “AIRMO has an experienced and impressive founding team building world-class technology that addresses the single biggest challenge facing the world — climate change. Airmo could transform the way we track and reduce carbon emissions globally, and this funding round is testament to their growth potential.”

AIRMO plan to use the pre-seed funding to expand its team. Currently 14 strong, von Kügelgen sees that at least double. And, by 2030, they aim to be able to detect every greenhouse gas super-emitter event. They have joined with the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, the industry-led group to tackle emissions, to work on this goal.

However, their current sights are firmly on the launch of their first satellite. “It will be up in one to one-and-a-half years,” says von Kügelgen. “It will be the first of a constellation of 12 satellites, and we’re currently closely involved with our target market in developing it. It’s going well, and we can’t wait for the first satellite to launch.”

Interview with Akansha Dimri

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