Apex Space takes on satellite bus ‘bottleneck’ with seed round led by a16z • TechCrunch


Apex Spacea startup with the goal of transforming the satellite bus industry, came out of stealth on Monday with an initial $7.5 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

The Los Angeles-based company has set its sights on the satellite bus – the part of the spacecraft that hosts the payload – which it says is the “new bottleneck” hitting the space industry. Apex founders, Ian Cinnamon and Maximilian Benassi, said in a blog post that they independently observed fundamental changes in the industry that convinced them of the need for a new solution to manufacturing space buses.

Cinnamon, founder of a tech startup whose company Palantir acquired Synapse Technology in 2020, said he’s seen payload customers “delayed” by the lengthy and costly process associated with building custom satellite buses. Benassi, an engineer whose career includes six years at SpaceX and nearly a year and a half at Astra, has noted changes in the launch economy that make mass manufacturing — rather than the custom engineering process that has characterized satellite buses thus far — more sense.

“Given this transformative change, we must start thinking about spacecraft differently and adapting to new market conditions,” Husband said. “We can’t just build a spacecraft. We have to build it on a large scale.”

This approach, which Cinnamon described in an interview with TechCrunch as scalable and product-based, is a major departure from traditional satellite bus manufacturing. Apex aims to deliver satellite buses to customers within months, rather than the status quo timeline of a few years.

Apex will come to the market with a small satellite bus called Aries, which will be able to carry payloads of up to 94 kg. This platform would be suitable for missions to low Earth orbit; The startup says on its website that future products will be compatible with other missions, such as those to geosynchronous orbit. Apex also offers additional functionality such as insurance and flight booking. Cinnamon said the company plans to introduce the first Aries platform in 2023, followed by 5 in 2024, and continues to expand from there.

While the founders have praised the likes of Astra and Rocket Lab for transforming the launch sector, these companies are also competitors, each designing satellite buses as part of an integrated shop solution for customers. Other major players in the satellite bus manufacturing space are Terran Orbital, which announced plans last year to build a 660,000-square-foot satellite manufacturing facility in Florida, and York Space Systems, which received a $1.12 billion valuation after selling a majority stake to the company. Firefly. Owner of AE Industrial Partners. But Cinnamon said that Apex differentiates itself from these players in several different ways: One is that the startup’s “bread and butter” will be commercial customers, not government customers. He added that the company aims to manufacture on a scale within months to keep pace with demand from the commercial sector.

The call for large-scale industrialization clearly found an echo in Andreessen Horowitz, who launched a new fund at the beginning of this year called “American Dynamism,” led by general partner Katherine Boyle. The fund aims to invest in companies that advance the nation’s interest and solve problems in industries such as supply chain, aviation, and manufacturing (among others). As Boyle has argued, sweeping investment thesis“The only immediate way to start American innovation is by building start-ups to solve critical problems.” For the founders of Apex, solving the problem of manufacturing satellite buses is not only critical to today’s space industry. It’s also a key to making humans a multi-planetary species in the future.

“If we really think about that future, do we think that all of the other spacecraft out there, that move around goods and services, that image Mars and the Moon, that provide communication services, and so forth, all of those spacecraft are going to be manually built as one-off custom vehicles? As they are today? Or is it actually going to be mass-manufactured? And I think in order to enable this future, they have to be mass-manufactured, and we want to be the first company to actually scale these vehicles.”

In addition to a6z, the tour also saw participation from XYZ Venture Capital, J2 Ventures, Lux Capital and Village Global. Cinnamon said the first priority for the new funding is hiring, and the company is looking for people from new space, traditional aviation and outside the space sector entirely. The company will also use the increase to further develop the Aries platform, including ordering components and beginning assembly of the manufacturing line.

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