Atomos tows $16 million in funding to create space tugs • TechCrunch

Atomos tows $16 million in funding to create space tugs • TechCrunch

Atomos tows $16 million in funding to create space tugs • TechCrunch

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You might not know space needs tugs, but now you do – and Atomos Space has just closed a $16.2 million Series A investment, which will see the company complete its demonstration mission where she will show her mooring and towing capabilities. The company builds a series of Orbital Transfer Vehicles (OTVs) that reposition satellites in space. The theory is that, by allowing flying objects to be moved into different orbits, they don’t need to have full navigation capabilities themselves, which should make operating spacecraft much cheaper. The company claims its existence cuts satellite operators’ launch costs in half.


The company is starting with high-powered electric propulsion systems and is eager to share that it sees these propulsion methods as stepping stones for its nuclear OTV options, which would be able to travel faster and farther, and offer commercial mobility services. The company is also positioning itself to be able to use these technologies for asteroid deflection, which has the effect of putting Harry Stamper out of work.

“I worked on the design of launch vehicles, then on the design of spacecraft propulsion systems, as well as some advanced technologies for moving in space, and I realized very quickly that the way we manage space logistics is not optimal. The best analogy we use is with planes. Imagine having a single-use plane, being the only passenger and having to take everything with you, without being able to make any groceries along the way, so if you want to get to your final destination, you have to drive and you have to take gas with you,” says Vanessa Clark, CEO and co-founder of Atomos Space. “At the end of the day, it’s very expensive and limited. What we really need is a hub-and-spoke logistics model for space. It allows us to do some really cool things, commercial missions like l Earth observation, communications worlds, broadband internet, but it also allows us to take the next step as a species and do more things in deep space that make economic and scientific sense . .”

This is the company’s third round of venture capital funding, and so far it has built and field-tested, including its mooring and propulsion systems. The next big step is to pilot the first vehicle.

“Tthat’s a lot of autonomy. We are working on setting up an autonomous satellite capable of detecting and navigating to a client and hooking onto it safely. We have the ability to optimize our propulsion system to operate just in space, unlike a launcher which also has to be designed to get in space,” Clark underscores the company’s competitive advantage. “It means we can go further and use less propellant. With this new round of funding, we are finishing the build of our first two vehicles, and we have a launch booked in just under 12 months. It will be a really exciting mission, where we will pilot two full-size utility vehicles.

The early use cases for the technology include bringing launched satellites to their final destinations and repositioning satellites mid-mission. When vehicles have reached their end of service, they can be moved to Graveyard Orbits or Disposal Orbits so they can burn up in the atmosphere.

“Our goal as a company is to make any orbit as accessible as Low Earth Orbit (LEO). On Earth, if you want to send something overseas, it’s as simple as send a package to the next town. You just have to go to the post office. We want this to be possible for space,” says Clark. “We want to operate a fleet of orbital transit vehicles in Earth orbit who can deliver the broad missions for a range of customers, spacecraft operators, space station operators as well as companies and agencies that want to explore beyond the atmosphere.”

The company is particularly excited about nuclear propulsion in space and is investing heavily on that front, telling us it offers an order of magnitude improvement in speed and payload capabilities.

With the current funding round, the company announces that it will double the size of the team and launch its first two OTVs in early 2024. The investment was led by Cantos Ventures and the Yamauchi No. 10 Family Office (c is the family that founded Nintendo), with participation from Upheaval Investments, Dolby Family Ventures, Arden Road Investments, Elefund and Techstars.


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