On the occasion of the NCEs, we met Laurent Marfisi, CEO of Unistellar, who intends to democratize space for as many people as possible.
When it comes to the world of space, and in particular the private players who are in the process of redefining its features, the same names keep coming back. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Rocket Lab, only Anglo-Saxon, not to say American, companies. But yet France, a space country in Europe with the launch base of the Ariane rocket in Kourou, or the Airbus and Arianespace work center in Toulouse, is well placed to have its role to play in this renaissance. of space.
And our territory is full of companies, more or less large, which are evolving at the same time as the passion for space is spreading to France. So in order to satisfy all these new astronomy lovers, you have to be able to offer them a telescope: that’s exactly what Unistellar does.
The company created in 2016 by Laurent Marfisi in Marseille is today one of the main companies that produces and supplies smart telescopes for the general public. For the record, the only other company that offers such services worldwide is Vaonis, a start-up also French, based in Montpellier.
Magic happens in seconds
In order to understand how Unistellar has been able to grow over the past five years, we took advantage of the sky and space meetings organized at the end of last year in Paris to discuss with Laurent Marfisi, CEO and founder of the brand. According to him, the project was born from a simple observation “to create a telescope in which everyone can see what is in the sky”. The idea was therefore to make the product as accessible as possible. “especially for use in town, where people are”.
So the idea was launched. But the big change between this telescope and the rest of the market is its ability to locate itself in the sky. “He finds one or two key stars and then it’s good” simply explains Laurent Marfisi. Indeed, the mode of operation of the eVscope is not much more complicated.
Just take out the telescope, place it on its tripod, point the sky at 45 degrees and wait for the magic to happen. In general it only takes a few seconds, a minute at most. The telescope then recognizes where it is, and will then be able to offer a whole list of elements present in the sky and which are interesting to observe (nebulae, galaxies, star clusters, etc.). `
A participatory ascent
Renowned throughout the world, the Unistellar project was not born of major rounds with investors, but of crowdfunding. “We knew it was a good channel to raise funds, we hoped to reach 600 k€, we dreamed of a million, but no more”. Finally, when the campaign ends at the end of 2017, the French project has recovered more than 2.2 million dollars. A sum that allows him to ensure the first 1600 sales of the company.
Thanks to the success of its first product, Unistellar was able at the beginning of 2021 to launch a second telescope, simply called the eVscope 2. The latter is the result of a collaboration with one of the biggest brands lenses that are: Nikon. A real chance for the young company from the Marseille city which can thus offer sensors with better resolution and a wider field of vision than on the first version of the eVscope.
“The idea with this new model, as with the first, is to simplify the use of a telescope, make it easier to access to make people want to observe the stars in turn”.
An impact on the scientific world
Thanks to these observations on the channel, the eVscope allows, thanks to its many users all over the world, to do citizen science. Laurent Marfisi explains that NASA or other space agencies regularly use amateur astronomers, especially for asteroid or exoplanet research. Indeed, in these kinds of situations “It’s better to have lots of telescopes everywhere, rather than one or two overpowered observatories that point to a very precise place”.
Today Unistellar is proud to announce that the company has worked on several scientific publications. For the launch of the Lucy mission by NASA in particular, the American agency needed a lot of data on the Trojan asteroids, a very poorly known part of our solar system “NASA therefore appealed to the general public, and therefore, to our users”.
A perfect product for astronomy enthusiasts and neophytes alike
If the price range of Unistellar products could suggest that it is only intended for professionals or at least for star lovers, already fine connoisseurs of the sky, it is actually quite the opposite. According to Laurent Marfisi “only one third of customers are amateur astronomers, who already have products costing several thousand euros and who come to seek the comfort of the eVscope”.
For him, a second third of Unistellar’s clientele would be made up of “enlightened neophytes”, who are beginning to take an interest in astronomy, but who don’t feel like having a device as complex as a conventional telescope, the calibration of which requires an increased knowledge of the sky. And finally, the last third of Unistellar’s customers “are people who love the stars without knowing much about them and who want a simple, but quality product to discover the sky and be amazed”.
The simplicity of use, but also all the technological part, with the search for stars, the use of a real on-board computer, these are all things that attract enthusiasts and neophytes alike and which create additional interest for the object.
“Our tool is infinitely easier to use than a traditional scope, and that’s exactly what people are looking for”.
An award-winning project
Unistellar is therefore this French-style success, which has exceeded the 5,000 customer mark a few months ago, a key step for the company, which saw its efforts rewarded at the last edition of the CES Awards. The Marseille company having received the “innovation awards” in the category “Digital Image” during this 2022 edition of the show.
The idea now for Unistellar is to continue its partnership with Nikon in order to make its products as “general public” as possible. The young company hopes to be able to industrialize further in the coming months and use its technology in other media, such as the project “Nocturne” let him think.