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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LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder
Photo: provided by LAV

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bold Capital Partner Emilio Diez Barroso talks about his entrepreneurial journey, what led him to become an investor and shares the qualities he looks for when investing in companies.

Bold Capital is a Series A fund that primarily focuses its investments in deep tech and biotech companies. But, like other funds, they make excuses to invest in other companies every now and then.

“We're always interested in things that have the potential to truly transform how things are done and uplift humanity,” he said.

In his experience with investing in early stage startups, Diez Barroso said “humility and vulnerability are assets and qualities in the journey, and you don’t feel like you have to have it all together with your investors.”

Which is why he looks for people who have “this capacity to take full responsibility for how they show up and they have a vision and they have the willingness to go and execute it.”

In addition to his work at Bold Capital, Diez Barroso also runs two family offices which provide him with a surplus of knowledge in the investment space.

“I wear two very different hats,” he said, “and I invest very differently when I'm investing for myself, when I'm investing for my family, and when I'm investing for LP’s.”

But before becoming an investor, Diez Barroso got his entrepreneurial start when he arrived in Los Angeles. He admits that he failed plenty of times because unlike in Mexico, where Diez Barroso grew up, he didn’t have the same access to the contacts or resources of his family business.

“I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way,” he said, “I had started or partnered with someone and co-founded and most of them I had no idea what I was doing, so most of them really failed and a few got lucky enough to succeed.”

After learning how these startups worked and investing his own capital into several companies, he soon realized he was a much better investor than an operator.

“I think we're not all cut out for the journey,” he said, “and I don't think we should all be cut out for that journey. I think that it takes a very different character to start something from scratch.”

Throughout his own journey, Diez Barroso acknowledged that he struggled with his own identity and need to feel like the smartest person in the room. Once he better understood his own motivations, Diez Barroso was able to see that he was chasing the next reward, the next carrot.

“It's fun to close the deal and it's fun to grow the business,” Diez Barroso said. “But what I hadn't been in contact with is how much of my fuel was derived from trying to outrun the idea of not feeling good enough.”

Of course, he’s not alone. “I see a lot of entrepreneurs, activists all across fields and I can tell the difference when they're running from this fuel that is sort of very quick burning because there is an anxiety that oftentimes makes us narrow minded,” Diez Barroso said. “We are so attached to what we think should happen that we leave very little space for the possibilities.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs
The United States transportation sector is rapidly adopting electric vehicle technologies at every level. From aircrafts, to tractor trailers, to sedans and bicycles, no means of locomotion is off limits…even armored trucks.
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