Apex Space Raises $7.5M to Manufacture Small Satellites in LA

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Apex Space Raises $7.5M to Manufacture Small Satellites in LA
Photo: Apex Space

The global market for small satellites is booming. A report from Trends Market Research last April estimated that the industry will reach a value of $15.3 billion by 2026, propelled mainly by the deluge of satellite companies big and small that are eager to capitalize on low launch costs.

But one common problem most companies face is lengthy wait times to receive a satellite bus— the main body of a satellite that holds all its key functions, scientific instruments and payload.

Enter Apex Space, a Culver City-based startup that is building a factory to make satellite buses at what it claims can be a fraction of the time it takes these contractors to finish one.

CEO Ian Cinnamon, an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, believes his new venture can outsmart legacy players in the satellite manufacturing business. He is working to scale Apex alongside CTO Max Benassi, a former senior engineer at SpaceX.

On Monday the company raised a $7.5 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz to fund development of its first product, the Aries satellite bus—a spacecraft that’s capable of carrying payloads of up to 200 pounds into orbit. The seed round also included investment from XYZ, Lux Capital and Village Global.

The startup enters a crowded field. Established federal contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are actively deploying satellite buses for the U.S. government (including the Space Force and the Department of Defense’s Space Development Agency). Additionally, Boeing opened a new factory to build small satellites in El Segundo this March to house its subsidiary Millennium Space Systems, another competitor to Apex.

On the startup side, there’s existing bus makers trying to outpace the big players, including Denver-based York Space Systems and Terran Orbital, which has an outpost in Irvine.

A rendering of Apex's upcoming Aries satellite bus. Photo: Apex Space

But Apex’s bus is built different. Designed to be sort of plug-and-play, meaning it can carry a variety of different payload types and could work for different customers, the Aries satellite bus is designed to support a range of missions and will be mass-produced. Cinnamon said Apex aims to build its first bus to test launch by 2023, and then five more by the following year.

Apex also plans to prioritize selling its Aries product to commercial customers first. Apex wouldn’t share its customers’ names, but said it is experiencing “significant interest” from commercial satellite operators. Cinnamon said he expects the first deals to be with companies working in satellite imaging and Earth observation, or communications. In the meantime he added Apex is “very eager to support the U.S. government, whether it be NASA, the Space Force or other missions.”

Apex’s plans couldn’t have come at a better time considering NASA is increasingly interested in having startups and private industry foot most of the bill to get its missions to orbit. The government agency is looking to pay companies that can deliver smallsat data products, and is offering a combined $476 million in contracts over the next five years to companies that meet its demands. “Those types of contracts we would love to work on,” Cinnamon said.

Given the myriad contractors already building satellite buses, however, Apex will have to make good on its competitive advantage—manufacturing speed—to succeed. Though Cinnamon wouldn’t provide specifics on timing and costs, he said that lead time on satellite buses usually is “measured in years, and we’ll measure in months.”

Alexander Harstrick, managing partner at J2 ventures, which invested in Apex’s seed round, said he believes in Apex’s proposal.

“The easiest entrant for disruption in manufacturing is to be very precise about a very specific problem,” said Harstrick. In Apex’s case, that’s how to make satellite buses faster and more sustainably than its competitors.

The issue of sustainability is a particularly important one to consider if Apex plans to mass produce satellite buses. Lately, the trend in aerospace is to avoid sending up hefty satellites with long lifespans and instead focus on constellations of smaller satellites, sometimes in the thousands (see Elon Musk's ambitions for Starlink).

But the more satellites launch into orbit, the more potential there is for its debris to cause harm. NASA is leading the initiative to reduce space waste; it and the FCC are advising private firms to build their satellites so they can de-orbit within five years. John “Danny” Olivas, a retired NASA mission specialist and co-director of USC’s Visual Intelligence and Multimedia Analytics Laboratory, called space junk “a real and present danger,” but added, “I think generally the space community is actually pretty responsible” in handling its debris.

Cinnamon said Apex is aware of this issue and has every intention to mitigate its impact on space junk. He added that, “we view the sustainability of space and mitigation of orbital debris not only core to our mission, but core to humanity’s long term survival.”


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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.


We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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