Southern California Startup Sets Sights on Apophis Asteroid

Exploration Labs has announced plans for a groundbreaking mission set to rendezvous with the asteroid Apophis before its potentially hazardous encounter with Earth.

In a bold move toward space exploration, Exploration Labs (ExLabs), a burgeoning startup based in Southern California, has announced plans for a groundbreaking mission set to rendezvous with the asteroid Apophis before its potentially hazardous encounter with Earth.

The mission, slated for 2028, aims to deploy three cubesats into Apophis’ orbit while simultaneously validating essential systems and software crucial for future endeavors in capturing and relocating near-Earth asteroids for resource extraction purposes.

Speaking to SpaceNews, ExLabs CEO Matthew Schmidgall emphasized the innovative collaboration between his company, government entities, and commercial partners, aiming to revolutionize space missions with a focus on cost-efficiency.

At the heart of ExLabs’ ambitious plans are their cutting-edge spacecraft designs, including the Space Exploration and Resource Vehicle (SERV), capable of accommodating payloads of up to 30 tons, and the Arachne Platform, designed for capturing and transporting space objects.

Recognizing the challenges faced by predecessors in the space resources sector, ExLabs is directing its efforts toward addressing immediate space infrastructure needs. Their recent receipt of a $1.7 million SpaceWERX Small Business Innovation Research contract underscores their commitment to advancing autonomous space object capture technologies.

The company’s relocation to a spacious 9,000-square-meter facility in Long Beach earlier this year signifies their readiness to scale up manufacturing processes, particularly in additive manufacturing, to meet the demands of asteroid acquisition missions.

Established in 2023 by Schmidgall and Miguel Pascual, a former Boeing senior systems engineer, ExLabs has since bolstered its team with notable additions such as Tom Cooley, former Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems chief scientist, and Dalibor Djuran, former E-Space chief engineer.

Furthermore, with the recruitment of Keiko Nakamura, a seasoned science advisor with nearly two decades of experience at NASA, including involvement in asteroid missions like Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-Rex, ExLabs is poised to achieve unprecedented milestones in space exploration.

NASA’s interest in low-cost missions to Apophis aligns with ExLabs’ vision, as evidenced by the space agency’s invitation to small companies for an Apophis workshop in February. Additionally, NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft is slated to rendezvous with Apophis post its anticipated flyby in April 2029.

As ExLabs pushes the boundaries of space exploration, their mission to intercept Apophis stands as a testament to the ingenuity and collaborative spirit propelling humanity’s quest for understanding and harnessing the resources of the cosmos.