Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup takes on mass producing spacecraft

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Co-founders Max Benassi, left, and Ian Cinnamon

Apex Space

A pair of heavy-hitter startup founders is turning their attention to what they see as a key bottleneck in the space industry, and has already won backing from high-profile venture capital.

Los Angeles-based Apex Space, led by co-founders Ian Cinnamon and Max Benassi, wants to better produce spacecraft at scale. The cost of a ride to orbit has been “massively decreasing,” Cinnamon told CNBC, but the satellite bus – the physical structure of a spacecraft that also provides power and movement – “has really not changed much in decades.”

“The one element holding everything back is really on the satellite bus side. That is what is slowing everything down – more so than launch, more so than new ideas,” Cinnamon said.

Apex has so far raised $7.75 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz, alongside other venture investors including XYZ, J2, Lux Capital and Village Global.

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Cinnamon previously founded Superlabs, sold to Zynga in 2015, and Synapse Technology, sold to Palantir in 2020. His partner in Apex, Benassi, earned his stripes at Elon Musk’s SpaceX over seven years, working on everything from rockets to engines and more.

They enter an increasingly competitive space subsector of satellite bus manufacturing, with the likes of York Space, which recently reached a $1 billion valuation. But Cinnamon says the market standard is still “handmade” spacecraft that take years to evolve from order to design to delivery.

“We’re not designing a new satellite bus every single time. We’re offering options and we’re going to say no to certain customers that are not a fit – we’re not going to custom design,” Cinnamon said.

A rendering of an Aries spacecraft in orbit.

Apex Space

Apex is starting off with its Aries satellite bus, a 103-kilogram platform that the company says can support a customer payload up to 94 kilograms.

Cinnamon said Apex has already taken on customers for 2023 and plans to scale its manufacturing to five satellite buses in 2024, then 20 in 2025, and up to 100 by 2026.

“From chatting with customers, we are hearing that people who are trying to procure satellite buses are having a very difficult time doing it, where many of the existing providers on the market are actually turning them away and saying they don’t have production slots for them,” Cinnamon said.

Satellites are launching to space at an unprecedented rate, with thousands coming to orbit annually. While Apex wants to produce satellite buses at scale, Cinnamon emphasized that avoiding adding debris to orbit is “critically important.”

“For every satellite bus that we sell – given the fact that we’re mass manufacturing as part of the fundamental design of how we build this – it has to come with a kind of de-orbit capability, and a pathway forward to ensure that it does not add to the space junk problem,” Cinnamon said.

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