Gravitics raises $20M for plans to build space station modules north of Seattle

An artist’s concept shows the StarMax Gravitics module in Earth orbit. (Gravitic Diagram)

A space venture called Gravitics has emerged from stealth with $20 million in seed funding and a plan to build space station modules at a 42,000-square-foot facility north of Seattle, in Marysville, Wash.

As NASA plans to phase out the International Space Station within the 2031 timeframe, Gravitics and its backers are promising a rush to launch commercial jobs into low Earth orbit. The operators of those employees may need subcontractors to supply the hardware.

Gravitics’ main offering is a super-sized module called StarMax. The multipurpose module would provide up to 400 cubic meters (14,000 cubic feet) of usable habitable volume — nearly half the pressure volume of the International Space Station.

Multiple StarMax modules could be linked together in orbit like Lego blocks.

“We are focused on helping commercial space station operators succeed,” Colin Doughan, co-founder and CEO of Gravitics, said in a news release today. “StarMax gives our customers a scalable size to accommodate the growing user base of a space station over time. StarMax is the modular building block for a human-centric cislunar economy.”

The investment group for the newly announced seed round is led by Type One Ventures and also includes Tim Draper of Draper Associates, FJ Labs, The Venture Collective, Helios Capital, Giant Step Capital, Gaingels, Spectre, Manhattan West and Mana Ventures.

“The case for Gravitics is simple,” said Tarek Waked of Type One Ventures, who joined Gravitics’ board of directors. “A scalable space infrastructure that is 100% made in the United States is good for the space industry, good for the country, and is just the beginning of an effort that will benefit the entire world as space becomes more accessible.”

Doughan brings nearly two decades of experience in the aerospace industry to the venture: he was a senior financial manager at Lockheed Martin from 2003 until January – and was a co-founder of Altius Space Machines, which was acquired by Voyager Space Holdings in 2019.

Other key members of the Gravitics team include chief engineer Bill Tandy, a veteran of Ball Aerospace and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture; and director of engineering Scott Macklin, former head of propulsion at Virgin Orbit. Gravitics says its workforce has grown to nearly 40 people, including full-time employees as well as contractors.

Building permits and job listings show Marysville, about 40 miles north of Seattle, as the site of Gravitics’ 42,000-square-foot facility for development and early production. The company says it has already begun assembling its first StarMax prototype, and is preparing to conduct module stress tests in early 2023.

The ground pressure tests would pave the way for a yet-to-be-announced orbital test mission. Pre-orders are being taken for module delivery as early as 2026.

Gravitics is likely to face challenges as it tries to break into a market alongside major players including Thales Alenia Space (which is making space station modules for Axiom Space); Sierra Space and Blue Origin (working on modules for the Orbital Reef space station); Northrop Grumman (which is developing its own space station concept) and Lockheed Martin (which is part of the team for the Starlab space station project, led by Nanoracks).

In an interview with TechCrunch, Waled told Type One that he expected SpaceX’s Starship super rocket – which is still in development – to open up new opportunities for Gravitics in the coming years. “We are promising that Starship will revolutionize the industry,” he was quoted as saying.

Because of its size, Starship would be the most suitable rocket to launch StarMax modules, but Gravitics says other launch vehicles could also be used.

TechCrunch said Gravitics executives were already talking to development groups in Florida about building a production and integration facility near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — with more square footage than the Marysville facility.

More from GeekWire:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *