We are excited to announce our investment today in Starfish Space’s $7M round alongside NFX, MaC Venture Capital, Boost VC, Liquid2 Ventures, and Hypothesis.
We wanted to share a few thoughts on our investment — in particular, why we’re so excited about the Starfish team, their unique technology, and the on-orbit servicing market.
Starfish is led by Austin Link and Trevor Bennett, both veterans of Blue Origin. Austin was a simulation engineer where he worked on physics models for New Shepard, New Glenn, and BE-4 engines. Trevor built in-flight guidance algorithms and autonomous sequences. Trevor also did his PhD thesis on a new way to move precisely around space objects using cutting-edge electric propulsion.
Between Austin and Trevor’s backgrounds, they are unbelievably well-suited to design, simulate, and build spacecrafts that can precisely maneuver and dock in space with incredible fuel efficiency.
But… what can one do with such unique superpowers?!
It turns out that there is an enormous need for companies with satellites in orbit to ensure that those satellites stay in their correct orbits for their entire useful life. As you can imagine, if a satellite drifts out of its specified orbit, it can have disastrous consequences. Starfish Space is developing the Otter, an efficient and versatile autonomous “space tug” to service satellites. It does so by using electric propulsion to navigate to a customer’s satellite, dock to it using a novel method to attach to a variety of surfaces, and proprietary navigation algorithms to then reposition the satellite. And due to this innovative new propulsion and docking approach, the Otter is very small (think: minifridge).
The Otter has two primary missions: extending the life of large geostationary spacecrafts and disposing of space debris in low-earth orbit.
Now, you may be asking, how many satellites can be up in orbit that need this? The answer is a lot.
In 2010, there were only 1,000 active satellites in orbit. Already today, there are more than 4,000, which is projected to go up to close to 20,000 by 2025… many of them producing millions or tens-of-millions of dollars of revenue for their operators each year. Part of this rapid acceleration of satellites in orbit comes from the tremendous cost-savings that SpaceX has brought to launching payloads. It is 10-20x less expensive to send a kg of mass to orbit with a SpaceX Falcon 9 than it used to be with the Space Shuttle.
We are also seeing a boom in the usefulness of small satellites. The march of progress in mobile phone technology has brought incredible advancements (and economies of scale) to components used in small satellites, which can now reach low-earth orbit for as cheap as $1 million each.
So we’ve now got a lot of satellites in space, growing very quickly, performing highly productive and value-creating activities like imaging, communications, and defense. It is mission-critical for the operators of these satellites to extend their lives or retire them safely. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Starfish Space to bring the Otter to market to solve these problems, with unprecedented low costs to build, launch, and scale.