ApexSpace, a startup aiming to transform satellite bus manufacturing, secretly emerged Monday with a $7.5 million seed 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’s two co-founders, Ian Cinnamon and Maximilian Benassi, said in a blog post that they independently observed key changes in the industry, leading them to believe a new satellite bus manufacturing solution was needed.
Cinnamon, a technology startup founder whose company, Synapse Technology, was acquired by Palantir in 2020, said he saw payload customers “holding back” from the lengthy and costly process associated with building custom satellite buses. Benassi, an engineer whose career has included a six-year stint at SpaceX and nearly a year and a half at Astra, saw the shift to launch economics from manufacturing on a large scale — the kind that have so far characterized satellite buses. The bespoke engineering process is rather – more sensible.
“Given this transformational change, we should start thinking differently about spacecraft and adapt to new market conditions,” the pair said. “We can’t just build spacecraft. We should manufacture them 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 in a matter of months instead of the status quo time of a few years.
Apex will come in the market with a small satellite bus named Aries, which will be capable of carrying a payload of up to 94 kg. That platform would be suitable for missions in low Earth orbit; The startup says on its website that future products will be compatible with other missions, such as those for geosynchronous orbit. Apex also offers add-ons like insurance and flight booking. Cinnamon said the company plans to deliver the first mesh platform in 2023, followed by 5 in 2024, and will continue to grow from there.
While the two co-founders praised the likes of Astra and Rocket Lab for transforming the launch area, these companies are also competitors, designing satellite buses as part of a complete one-stop-shop solution for each customer. Other major players in the satellite bus manufacturing sector are Terran Orbital, which last year announced plans to build a 660,000-square-foot satellite manufacturing facility in Florida, and York Space Systems, which will be worth $1.12 billion after selling a majority stake to Firefly. Evaluation took place. AE Industrial Partners, owner of Aerospace. But Cinnamon said Apex is distinguishing itself from these players in a few different ways: The first is that the startup’s “bread and butter” will be commercial customers rather than government customers. He said the company aims to scale up manufacturing in a few months to meet the demand from the commercial sector.
The call for mass manufacturing clearly resonated in Andreessen Horowitz, who earlier this year launched a new fund called “American Dynamics,” led by general partner Kathryn Boyle. The fund aims to invest in companies that promote the country’s interest and solve problems in industries such as supply chain, aerospace and manufacturing (among others). As Boyle argued in his comprehensive investment thesis, “The only immediate way to kickstart American renewables is through startup building for critical problems.” For Apex’s co-founders, solving the satellite bus manufacturing problem isn’t all that important to the space industry today. It is also the key to making humans a multi-planetary species in the future.
“If we really think about that future, do we think about all the other spacecraft that are out there, that are moving around objects and services, that are imaging Mars and the Moon, that are communication services? Are all those spacecraft really going to be built by hand like they are today? Or are they really going to be built on a large scale? And I believe that To enable the future, they have to be mass-manufactured, and we want to be the first company to truly scale up the manufacturing of these vehicles.”
In addition to A6z, the round also saw participation from XYZ Venture Capital, J2 Ventures, Lux Capital and Village Global. The number one priority for the new funding is recruitment, Cinnamon said, and the company is looking for people in new space, traditional aerospace and outside the space sector as a whole. The company will also use the growth to continue to develop the Mesh platform, which includes ordering components and starting an assembling manufacturing line.