Space is said to be the final frontier of exploration for humankind, and venture capitalists are doing their best to make sure that frontier is reached sooner rather than later.
Elon Musk wants to send a mission to Mars by the end of 2018. Jeff Bezos wants to save the planet by moving industry into space and “re-zone” Earth for residential and light-commercial use. And we can’t forget about Paul Allen's company, Stratolaunch Systems, which plans to launch rockets into space from altitudes of 35,000 feet with the largest plane ever built (construction on the first plane is reportedly 76% complete).
These mega-billionaires may have the most ambitious plans—Musk with SpaceX and Bezos with Blue Origin—but many other companies are looking toward space with their own products.
Here are a few other VC-backed companies that have received venture funding recently and are developing ways to deliver services to, or from, space:
Firefly Space Systems has raised roughly $22 million in VC funding to date (not including grants), and earlier this month took in a $19 million financing; its investors include Capital Factory and SK Ventures. The company says its mission is to provide low-cost, high-performance space launch capability to the underserved small-satellite market. Its current launch rocket, Firefly Alpha, is designed for light satellites (<1,000kg) that could take telecommunications, networking, global mapping and other services into space. In fact, Firefly has been awarded a $5.5 million contract to launch certain payloads for NASA.
Accion Systems is developing propulsion systems that use electric fields to accelerate ions which are supplied by a non-toxic liquid propellant stored in plastic tanks. While the technology might not produce enough thrust for a full Earth launch, the chip-based system can be used to control satellites up to 2,000kg once they are in space. In May, Accion Systems raised a $7.5 million Series A financing that values it at $23.4 million and its VC investors include Founder Collective, Shasta Ventures and RRE Ventures. The company has already received a U.S. Department of Defense contract and is selling their propulsion chips commercially.
Moon Expresswants to bring the moon’s resources back to Earth. To do that, the company is building a robotic moon lander capable of delivering scientific and commercial payloads. The vehicle is designed to reach the moon from the altitude of a commercial satellite, hitching a ride into Earth's orbit with commercial launchers such as SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket. Moon Express has raised funding from Autodesk Ventures. Its $16.4 million Series B funding in January 2015 valued the company at almost $40 million.
SkyFi is facingsome big competition with its telecommunications satellites in the forms of Google and Facebook. The company is developing nano-satellites and related satellite communication technology that, once deployed during orbit, are designed to work within a network to blanket the Earth in internet bandwidth. While SkyFi's product and technology have not been proven, the company is reportedly looking to launch an initial nano-satellite during 2017. Jerusalem Ventures and Liberty Ventures together made a $3 million investment in the company in February.