ExLabs Strategizes Ambitious Mission to Intercept Asteroid Apophis

ExLabs Strategizes Ambitious Mission to Intercept Asteroid Apophis

SAN FRANCISCO — Exploration Labs, a Southern California startup focused on space resources, is planning a 2028 mission to rendezvous with the asteroid Apophis before it reaches Earth.

During the mission, ExLabs intends to deposit three cubesats in Apophos’ orbit. The flight also is designed to validate systems and software for future campaigns to capture and move near-Earth asteroids into stable orbits for resource acquisition.

“We’re creating a unique partnership to enable a new style of lower-cost missions in collaboration with government and commercial partners,” ExLabs CEO Matthew Schmidgall told SpaceNews

ExLabs is developing massive modular spacecraft to host partner payloads, plus robotics to capture and transport space objects to new locations. Space Exploration and Resource Vehicle, or SERV, is ExLabs’ spacecraft to host payloads with a mass as high as 30 metric tons in its fully stacked configuration. ExLabs’ Arachne Platform is designed to capture and transport noncooperative objects.

Near-Term Focus

Leaders of Long Beach-based ExLabs are well aware of the challenges faced by previous space resource startups. As a result, they are focused on applying the company’s core technologies to existing and near-term space infrastructure challenges.

In 2023, ExLabs announced a $1.7 million SpaceWERX Small Business Innovation Research contract for technology related to autonomous capture and acquisition of space objects.

ExLabs’ manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California, for developing prototype robotics and spacecraft platforms. Credit: ExLabs

Earlier this year, ExLabs moved into a 9,000-square-meter facility in Long Beach. The facility is set up for additive manufacturing of spacecraft that are “much larger than standard platforms because asteroid acquisition requires a lot of mass, power and payload capacity,” Schmidgall said.

ExLabs was founded in 2023 by Schmidgall, former Rocket Motorsports managing partner, and Miguel Pascual, a former Boeing senior systems engineer. 

In recent months, ExLabs has expanded its staff. Tom Cooley, former Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems chief scientist, is ExLabs’ senior vice president for technology strategy. ExLabs’ vice president for spacecraft engineering is Dalibor Djuran, former E-Space chief engineer. Keiko Nakamura, ExLabs science advisor, spent nearly 20 years at NASA and served as co-investigator on asteroid missions including Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-Rex.

Apophis Flyby

NASA has also expressed interest in low cost missions to Apophis, an asteroid, that will pass between Earth and satellites in geostationary orbit in April 2029. In February, NASA invited small companies and other nontraditional partners to an Apophis workshop.

In addition, NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft is slated to rendezvous with Apophis after its April 2029 flyby.

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