This space startup is working to ensure access to energy on the moon. Founder and CEO of The Lunar Grid Jan van Baelen explains.
The ESA plans to build a permanent settlement on the moon around 2050. This lunar village will require power and a grid to transport that energy, a challenge that space aficionado Jan Van Baelen has been grappling with during his studies.
He explains: “On the moon a lunar night lasts around 14 days during which you don’t have sunlight to recharge your batteries. But, you still need to heat your system during the night when temperatures drop to -170°C. If you don’t maintain the temperature, your system will fail mechanically due to thermal stresses.”
Growing up in Belgium Van Baelen had always been interested in entrepreneurship. One summer holiday he and his brother bought a 3D printer and used it to create and sell parts. Another year, he learned welding and began constructing barbecues. The self-starter went on to study aerospace engineering at KU Leuven in Belgium, before working for two years at the innovation department of the ESA’s European Space Operations Center. It was here that he pursued his interest in powering lunar life and the idea for a lunar grid startup took shape. “The good part about ESA is that everybody is eager to share their excitement and expertise about space,” he recalls. Van Baelen took more courses, including an MBA essentials course with the London School of Economics, and the International Space University summer programme.
“For startups it is therefore critical to establish a short term strategy until the lunar economy matures.”Jan van Baelen, CEO of The Lunar Grid
The Lunar Grid, which Van Baelen launched in May 2021, developed a wireless power beaming technology to power systems operating on the moon. “Simplistically explained, it’s like shining a flashlight onto a solar panel, which would transfer energy wirelessly over a certain distance,” the entrepreneur explains. While the technology is not new, Lunar Grid’s USP lies in maximising efficiencies.
“The cost of putting a system on the moon is immensely high. So you want to maximise its return as much as possible. And therefore you can make a valid case on the moon using this technology, even with lower efficiencies,” he says.
The idea gained traction with the organisers of Luxembourg’s accelerator programme Fit4Start, from which Lunar Grid graduated in the summer of 2022. The programme made Van Baelen reflect on his revenue strategy. He said: “There’s a lot of talk about the moon and mining resources there. But as of today, if we had our product standing on the moon, there would be no customer. For startups it is therefore critical to establish a short term strategy until the lunar economy matures.” The entrepreneur adopted a shorter-term vision of using the technology to increase the flight time of drones on Earth. The team is currently looking to adapt its lunar prototype to distribute energy to drones. “We’re looking for a pilot customer to develop the first prototype with. We hope that the first product we want to sell will go out at the end of next year as a commercial product,” says Van Baelen.
Lunar Grid is now looking to scale up its team of three, a task which the CEO says has been challenging given competition from larger employers. Besides an employee share scheme, he says the main benefit that the startup can offer employees is having the value of their work recognised.