Dry powder (5/24/23)
Good morning. It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means—we’re shouting out another Space Mike!
Today’s honoree is Mike Lindsay, CTO of Astroscale, who heads up the technical side of the company’s debris-tackling mission architecture. Before that, Mike spent 12 years leading spectrum architecture design for OneWeb. Thanks to Chris Blackerby for the nomination.
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In today's edition..
💰 Fortuna investments
🚀 Ursa Major AFRL award
📝 Contract opps
💸 The term sheet
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VC Firm Fortuna Expands into Space Investing
On the left: Fortuna founder and CEO Justus Parmar. On the right: Fortuna VP and NFL Alum Frostee Rucker. Image: Fortuna
Fortuna Investments is opening a Miami office with the goal of investing in 12 early-stage space startups over the next few years.
“I think it’s an incredible time to get involved and allocate capital,” Fortuna founder and CEO Justus Parmar told Payload. “We have a lot of powder dry and are looking for opportunities.”
Fortuna 101: The VC firm was founded in 2015 and counts over 30 employees. Fortuna, which Parmar primarily funds himself, has invested in over 125 startups, focusing on emerging industries such as robotics, life sciences, and lithium mining.
Now Fortuna is turning its attention and investing experience to space.
Toes wet: Fortuna's first investment was in Starfighters Space, a company with a fleet of seven F-104 supersonic aircrafts. Starfighters is building out suborbital air-launch capabilities to pair with its pilot training and Mach-2 testing businesses.
Fortuna led a $10M round in Starfighters, which included additional funds from friends and investors.
NFL to space: Earlier this month, Fortuna appointed NFL alum Frostee Rucker as VP of the West Coast office and Starfighters board member. Rucker will leverage his 13 years of NFL experience to help with deal origination, investment decisions, and to bring in investors and communities that have historically been underrepresented in the space ecosystem.
“The space industry is a niche group of people,” Rucker told Payload. “There's a lot of communities that have been left out, and now I feel like I could be a key to the growth of the sector.”
Fortuna’s space investing thesis
Parmar opened up to Payload about Fortuna’s space investing thesis and market outlook:
Tailwinds: Strong industry drivers include IoT connectivity, Space Force budgets, and competition with China.
Headwinds: Space is a nascent industry with generally under-developed tech, which sets up a difficult investment environment against the backdrop of high interest rates.
Market opportunity: There’s a huge opportunity to support high cash-burn businesses struggling to secure funding in the high interest rate environment.
SPACs: Failed SPACs have left a lot of institutional and retail investors believing space is uninvestable. This could present additional opportunities.
VC investing: Risk is high in VC investing, but the returns are outsized. Fortuna’s goal is to support the ecosystem and get a couple winners.
“We know we are in the winter, but after winter comes spring,” said Parmar. “The greatest companies the world has ever seen have come out of very difficult markets.”
Machina Labs is disrupting the centuries-old sheet metal manufacturing industry
Speed is the winning strategy for those leading the New Space Industry.
Machina’s AI Robotic Craftsman is disrupting the centuries-old sheet metal manufacturing industry with unseen speed, agility for large, curved, precision parts and tools. The most innovative rocket and satellite manufacturers are leveraging Machina's rapid manufacturing capabilities to iterate, test, and scale production of high-performance sheet metal parts to launch faster and more reliably.
Machina’s new LA factory has dozens of robots working around the clock to form, scan and cut large, deep domes, cones, skins, fairings, and aerostructures to spec.
Reach out now to learn how Machina can help de-risk your most ambitious development schedules.
Ursa Major Receives AFRL Contract for Draper and Arroway Engines
Image: Ursa Major
Ursa Major received a contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on Tuesday to test a prototype of its new Draper engine for hypersonics and to continue developing its Arroway engines.
AFRL awarded these funds aiming to decrease US dependence on foreign propulsion systems for space launch, a key goal of its rocket propulsion division.
The Draper engine: As part of the contract announcement, Ursa Major revealed Draper, which is designed to defend against hypersonic weapons. The 4,000-pound thrust engine is designed for hypersonic applications, and its fuel, a hydrogen peroxide and kerosene blend, is storable, optimizing the design for rapid-response and launch on demand.
The startup claims that solid rocket engines cannot offer the same degrees of maneuverability and flexibility required by missile defense systems.
A hotfire test is planned within 12 months.
The Arroway engine: Ursa Major unveiled its Arroway engine, a 200,000-pound thrust reusable liquid oxygen and methane engine for medium and heavy launch vehicles, in August 2022. When several of these engines are clustered together, they will be capable of supporting next-generation heavy launch vehicles.
Payload’s takeaway: Over the past few decades, the US defense industrial base has consolidated drastically, leaving behind only two independent propulsion providers by 2020. The DoD’s push for a stronger base of domestic propulsion providers—as well as a hunger to develop homegrown hypersonics capabilities—has led to a broader field of competition in the rocket engine manufacturing space.
In Other News
Virgin Orbit divvied up its assets at auction after declaring bankruptcy. Rocket Lab bid $16.1M for the Long Beach headquarters, Stratolaunch snagged its modified 747 jet for $17M, and Vast’s Launcher took the Mojave facility and some equipment for $2.7M.
South Korea postponed the third launch of its Nuri rocket, citing a technical problem.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the lunar grave where ispace’s HAKUTO-R lander crashed last month.
SETI scientists are hashing out details for a potential radio observatory on the far side of the Moon.
Asteroid City, Wes Anderson’s new space (ish? We think?) movie, premiered at Cannes to a five-minute standing ovation.
Here are the top three government opportunities for space companies this week, as compiled by our partner TZero.
☄️ NASA HQ will release the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NAICS) Phase 1 solicitation on or about June 1st. The two-step solicitation is for 9-month, Phase 1 contracts supporting innovative R&D and spaceflight capabilities.
💡 NASA GSFC will release an RFP for the Atmosphere Observing System - Polar (AOS-P) Polarimeter Instrument Phase A Study procurement. This FFP opportunity will focus on developing polarimeter payload concepts, with the RFP release on June 1st and due June 30th.
🌅 NOAA NESDIS released an RFI requesting information on potential space-based instruments that can observe the aurora from LEO. Comments and questions are due by June 1st.
Additional opportunities and details can be found in the TZero Space Tracker.
The Term Sheet
TRL11, a space video monitoring startup, raised a $3M pre-seed to scale up its team and production. Boost VC led the round with participation from Wonder VC, Anorak, Geek Ventures, and Space Cadet (via Payload).
Saxavord banked $173M in debt financing to complete its spaceport construction.
Satellite Vu, a UK climate tech company, secured £12.7M ($15.7M) in Series A2 funding led by Molten Ventures.
Amini Corp nabbed $2M in pre-seed funding, led by Pale Blue Dot, to build out its satellite-enabled climate and supply chain monitoring product.
SpiderOak raked in a new round of funding from its industry partners Accenture Ventures, Raytheon Technologies' RTX Ventures, and Stellar Ventures.
Viasat ($VSAT) received FCC approval for its acquisition of Inmarsat.
The UK will not provide bailout funding to bankrupt Virgin Orbit.
The View from Space
EOS Data Analytics’ first satellite has begun beaming images home for agricultural monitoring.