Jonata Puglia, Leaf Space

27 September 2016

Italian space startup, Leaf Space, recently announced it has secured one million Euros in financial capital as it aims to simplify access to space for microsatellite operators. This capital will be used to launch on the market Leaf Line, the first telecommunication service completely dedicated to these users. Spaceoneers spoke to Co-Founder and CEO, Jonata Puglia, to find out more.

Spaceoneers: First tell us a little about a bit about your company and services.

Jonata Puglia: Platform to deliver services for microsatellite operators and we first look towards the communication service which is really … and then the long-term project is to develop ultra-light launch vehicles called Primo.

Our core project at this moment is Leaf Line and in particular it solves a problem with communication issues between the ground and space, tailored to microsatellites. We aim to deploy a network of 20 ground stations all around the world with the first eight in Europe. We have already implemented the first ground station here near Milan. It is active and we are already receiving data from space. Another three are in Lithuania, Spain and Ireland. With these 4 we will go to the commercialisation phase and start the service, then higher to implement the other 16 ground stations. We control them from here in Milan. There is a big part of software development, which is more or less 50% of our business. These are more or less our activities for the moment.

The next project, I think will be starting next year is Primo, our ultra-light launch vehicle able to take 50kg mass into LEO (700km) as an average and it is also dedicated to microsatellites. A big market is telecommunication and launches, and currently there isn’t such a service dedicated to microsatellites. We wanted to solve this problem.

Working on the antenna at the ground station in Milan. Image credit: Leaf Space

Spaceoneers: How did you get started as a company?

Jonata Puglia: From market research we started working together (Michele, Giovanni). Activity that was good for smaller company… microsatellites we think are a powerful market. We recognise there are a lot more companies developing microsatellite hardware but there are few companies developing services such as software. We can do those activities as a startup.

The most important challenge is us getting going as a startup here in Italy. The system is not ready for startups and in particular for the space sector, Then technologically we are developing something very innovative from a technology point of view this is an important challenge. Maybe the last challenge is customers. It can be difficult to convince customers as they are used to standard systems but they are very old. Even if the added value is very big, change can be difficult for some.

Spaceoneers: How do we convince your investors to support you?

Jonata Puglia: I think we’ve been least a bit lucky on that. In Italy it is difficult to find investments. Our first round of investment is the one million Euro. Normally investments in the first round for seed investments are the order of 200 000 Euros, so we were very fortunate to find a venture capital that immediately understood the business opportunity and the added value of space. The fact they are already people that are confident and familiar with the space sector was how we convinced them. They also contacted our future customers, so they gained confidence in that way, which has given solidity behind our project.

Spaceoneers: What did you do before founding Leaf Space?

Jonata Puglia: Before Leaf Space, we founded the first non-for-profit Skyward Experimental Rocketry. This was done at Politecnico di Milano, a scientific university here in Milan. In 2012 we founded this and it is still active, even though we are no more in the organisation. It was a big challenge for the same problem in Italy that it is difficult to do things in the space sector.

Spaceoneers: What is your motivation behind the company?

Jonata Puglia: Private initiatives are the key for our market. This is driven by private initiatives such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic doing private and commercial business, so there is entities in microsatellites. The private environment is key and will be for future development in this area. Microsatellite costs are very low compared to standard tech in space.

Spaceoneers: What makes you a Spaceoneer?

Jonata Puglia: I’d say, the possibility to do something until a few years ago with more ease and that young guys like us can do something for the space environment. Future missions to other planets, and visiting moons of other worlds is the drive behind our passion and the vision we have for our activities.

Ground station in Milan at sunset. Image credit: Leaf Space