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will the first solar sail in space be French?

Thibaut Elzière, the founder of Fotolia and the Startup studio eFounders is teeming with projects. After launching Folk six months ago, he raised 2 million euros from CNES and BpiFrance to create the first solar sail in space.

Thibaud Elzière was passionate about the internet during his engineering studies, and it hasn’t stopped since. Co-founder of Zilok.com (now Ouicar), his great success was Fotolia, whose stakes he sold three times, in 2009, 2012 and 2014 (the year Adobe bought the whole thing for 800 million dollars). But he is not intended to be a simple business angel.

In fact, he had already anticipated the next movement by creating eFounders with Quentin Hickmans, a startup generator that corresponds to his vision and allows him to “have fun”. He says it himself “it’s the idea I have of France, between Silicon Valley for products and innovation, and the German side for rigor and processes”.

Enrich the economic ecosystem

Thibaut Elzière’s vision is wide angle, he says he is “sector agnostic”, everything is likely to interest him, he is convinced that speed and growth, whatever the cost, are essential in innovative sectors. Collaborative consumption, food, B2B, and especially everything that is “scalable”, therefore likely to develop and take on a new dimension.

Each week, at eFounders, a marketing committee and a product meeting are held in order to create rhythm, speed and efficiency. You have to believe that the recipe is good. eFounders has already created about thirty startups for a portfolio valued at more than two billion dollars.

From Berlin to Brussels

If Thibaud Elzière had the chance to grow up in the Alpilles, it was in Berlin that his entrepreneurial adventure began. Not only did he meet his future wife there, but he also began to lay the first foundations for his Fotolia project. We can never say enough about the benefits of years spent studying abroad!

At the end of his year in Berlin at Total, he joined his partner in Brussels where he has remained ever since. This southerner was seduced by the quality of life in the Belgian capital, far from the image of Épinal of gray skies as far as the eye can see. Since the pandemic, the man has organized himself, he goes to Paris two days a week, and works from home the rest of the time. He finds this solution extremely productive.

Gama Space, a science fiction project

A 74 square meter solar sail scheduled to be launched into space within a few months, specifically in October, here’s what it’s all about. It is not in the least a fad on the part of the serial entrepreneur, but indeed a passion. Thibaud Elzière has always had his eyes in the stars, space being a magnificent territory in which to dream and why not make some of his dreams come true.

It was two years ago, the project was then set up in the head of the entrepreneur who contacted U3P, the Union for the Promotion of Photonic Propulsion in search of a specialist in space law. It will be Louis de Gouyon Matignon, today president of Gama, associated with Andrew Nutter, an investor also passionate about space. Three partners therefore to get involved in this project officially born in the summer of 2020. The young startup Gama Space worked in complete confidentiality before revealing itself with a fundraising of 2 million euros from the CNES (Centre national d’Etudes Spatiales), BpiFrance and private investors.

A sail, what for?

Thibaud Elzière had already been interested during his studies in solar sails to the point of devoting a thesis to it in 1999 in partnership with CNES researchers. The principle is innovative, instead of using an electric or chemical propulsion as today, it is a question of using the photonic solution.

Did you say “photonics”?

In short, this energy enables propulsion that accelerates over time. The principle is identical to that of sailboats. There is a solar wind in space that can be used for interstellar travel. Light is the engine, made up of photons that touch the sail and will transfer their energy to an object, which will then be propelled and set in motion.

Philip Lubin, a leading researcher in this type of research, even predicts Earth-Mars trips in 3 days, or a month for a manned flight. No wonder Thibaud Elzière was totally passionate about and involved in this revolutionary transport. You want a dream, here it is! No oil, no gas, no electricity…

A veil thinner than a hair

The sail designed by Gama is fifty times thinner than a human hair, made from an aluminized polyamide. To achieve this feat, Gama provided the means: a dozen engineers worked on this innovation in partnership with an American company as well as on their own navigation software, called “Sextant”.

In competition with NASA (USA) and Jaxa (Japan)

All the major space agencies are working on the subject, Californian researchers funded by NASA have already designed a laboratory photonic thruster. Thibaud Elzière has an idea beyond the extraordinary aspect of the concept. It does not forget the basics and has the will to create a new market segment by offering extremely competitive missions in price compared to the current competition equipped with conventional propulsions. A way to explore deep space, including for countries that do not have access today for financial reasons.

Venus in focus for 2025

The tests will take place concretely until 2025 when a mission for Venus is already envisaged. But next October, the “Gama Alpha” mission launched by a SpaceX rocket will deploy the first sail, serving as the engine for a small 11-kilo satellite, a first full-scale test which will take place 550 kilometers above our heads. , even if this technology is intended to be used for distant missions, not in low orbit thereafter. A magnificent epic in perspective.

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