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Apex, a new company launched Monday, aims to lower the barriers of entry to the space market by streamlining satellite production—a model directly in line with the Pentagon’s desires to enhance the US position in space.
Apex plans to manufacture satellite platforms with lower costs and shorter timelines in an industry that’s used to building custom-designed satellites. Typical timelines for satellites are currently quoted at around 18 months but realistically can take three to five years, said Ian Cinnamon, CEO of Apex. His company plans to do it three to four months.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, is looking to partner with companies that can help it broaden the availability of smaller and simpler spacecraft that are cheaper to procure, faster to produce, and easier to integrate into existing defense systems.
Cinnamon said Apex is focusing on those facets of the future space economy, while companies like Space X or Rocket Lab USA envision moving humans from Earth into space.
“Who is building the vehicle that is going to be moving goods and cargo and services around in space? I cannot imagine it being today’s status quo where we’re custom designing a new spacecraft for every single purpose,” he said.
Air Force researchers are advocating for “a disaggregated architecture” system comprised of cheaper, smaller, and less complex spacecraft that are “more capable of resisting counterspace threats by relying on a strength-in-numbers approach rather than providing a tailored system defensive response.”
Last week, the Defense Department’s Space Development and Test Directorate released a draft request for proposals seeking spacecraft for its experiments platform. The contract includes hardware, software and services, integration into the defense department’s payload, launch operation support, orbit experiment operations, and data delivery to space test program customers.
The directorate will host a virtual industry day Tuesday for contractors that support spacecraft production and its sub-components.
Apex’s spacecraft could well fit that bill. Its products can be customized with slight changes enabled by software. The modular approach makes it easier to configure different components without writing new code for every propulsion or power option.
“We don’t want to invent something new every time, and we are not designing our bus specifically for each payload,” Cinnamon said. “Instead, we have a set of standard buses that can be configured for a variety of use cases, which means that there will be some customers that we can’t work with—but we believe that 90% of them we can.”
Similar to visions of space proselytized by Elon Musk and other space-focused firms, Cinnamon believes Apex can help “democratize access to space” by lowering costs and access.
Apex plans to present pricing directly to customers “up front and let them lock it in” as soon as they pick their custom attributes, he said. Other companies sometimes add non-recurring engineering costs to their estimates, which isn’t part of Apex’s business model.
Apex also has landed investments from large venture players in the defense space like Andreessen Horowitz and J2 Ventures, along with other well-known commercial-focused VC firms: XYZ, Lux Capital, and Village Global.
The company looks to respond to a range of needs for both government and commercial customers, including orbital transport vehicles, satellites to create artificial gravity, and deep space asteroid mining.
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