Gilmour Space blasted onto the tech pages with news of its $61 million raise this morning, proving the Aussie space scene is attracting interest — and big cheques.
It’s the latest in a string of huge funding announcements for local startups. But it also follows an uptick in activity in the Aussie space tech scene.
RMIT is set to launch a space hub to support businesses seeking satellite data, and the Australian National University has secured a $2.5 million grant to establish infrastructure for space testing facilities.
The Moonshot space tech incubator announced back in November that it was backing 11 space startups, including both Aussie and international ventures.
Some of the participants were operating in stealth mode at the time of the announcement, but those names included Melbourne-based Beings Systems and Esper Satellite Imagery, alongside Sydney-based Sperospace.
According to data from Haver Analytics and Morgan Stanley, the global space tech industry was worth about US$380 billion ($506 billion) in 2020.
That’s projected to increase to US$461 billion by 2025, and to US$10 trillion by 2030.
An ACMA market study of the Australian space sector, released in April 2021, suggests the local industry generated about $5.7 billion in 2020 and supported more than 15,000 jobs.
The report suggested the Aussie sector will more than double by 2030, generating $12 billion per year and supporting an additional 20,000 jobs.
Much of that comes down to a maturing of space technology. VC investment in this space has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years, the reporter said, and the emergence of specialised carriers and ‘ride-share’ companies has lowered the barrier to entry.
So who are the major players in Australia’s up-and-coming space tech sector?
The hero of the hour, Gilmour Space, has secured $61 million in what is being touted as the biggest private equity investment ever raised by an Aussie space startup.
Based in Gold Coast, Queensland, and headed up by co-founder and chief Adam Gilmour, the business is developing hybrid rocket technology for launching small satellites into space. It is on track to start commercial launches in 2022.
The startup has some 70 employees and a network of 300 partners and suppliers.
The Series C round included backing from US-based Fine Structure Ventures and Australian VCs Blackbird and Main Sequence, as well as super funds HESTA, Hostplus and NGS Super.
It will fuel further development of the rocket technology, and see the team increase to 120 people within the next 12 months.
Headed up by space engineer Flavia Tata Nardini, Adelaide-based Fleet Space builds nanosatellites, roughly the size of a shoebox and weighing less than 10kg.
The startup is striving to create an Internet of Things network in space, in order to connect sensors all over the world and improve efficiencies in anything from agriculture to mining or logistics.
Founded in 2015, Fleet launched its first four nanosatellites into space in 2018, with the help of New Zealand-born Rocket Lab.
In March 2021, the fifth commercial nanosatellite took flight.
Now the startup is ramping up, with plans to get 140 in orbit by 2027.
Another Adelaide-based satellite startup, Myriota offers affordable starter packs allowing other businesses to add IoT capabilities to their own tech.
Also founded in 2015 by Dr Alex Grant and David Haley, the startup has rolled out its commercial products in the US and Canada, and raised a total of US$32.1 million.
That includes investment from CSIRO’s Main Sequence, Right Click Capital and Boeing, which has invested through its HorizonX Ventures arm.
Myriota has some 61 granted patents, and 45 employees listed on LinkedIn.
Equatorial Launch Australia
Equatorial Launch Australia is a Northern Territory ‘spaceport’ complex, which chief executive Carley Scott calls “an airport for rockets”.
The business launches and recovers objects flown to and from space, and has been contracted by NASA as its first private launch site outside of the US.
While the team planned on making its first commercial launches from the site in 2020, things have reportedly been held back somewhat by red tape, with launch approval from the Australian Space Agency taking its time to come through.
While the bulk of Australia’s space activity is in South Australia, Scott told SmartCompany in 2019 the Northern Territory provides “a very efficient location” for launches.
“When you’re close to the equator you often get a greater efficiency for the rocket launch. It throws your rocket off more quickly, so you need less fuel,” she explained.
Yet another Adelaide startup is Space Machines, which essentially does what it says on the tin: builds technology for space-based mobility, logistics and transportation.
The team will provide deployment and adjustment services via its fleet of ‘space taxis’, as well as hosting and servicing for tech in space, in a bid to keep it orbiting for longer.
The business is working with the likes of Gilmour Space to get its spacecraft launched within the next 12 months.
“The global demand for transportation services like ours is going to grow to an $8 billion market by 2028,” founder and chief Rajat Kulshrestha said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review.
“Companies have worked out it’s cheaper to get to space; now what do we do?”
Queensland-based Fireball.International combines satellite technology with AI to detect and report bushfires almost instantly — the team claim the tech reported a California fire just 66 seconds after it was sparked by a falling power line.
Launched in February 2020, the startup now has 16 employees and a presence in the US and Canada, with European and South American offices on the way.
The team is also partnering with Space Machines to launch its own bushfire detection satellite into space in 2022.
“Not having to look overseas for launch and in-space transport capabilities reduces cost and complexity for Fireball.International, which translates to better fire protection at a lower cost for Australia,” co-founder and chief Christopher Tyler said in a statement.
Another space-logistics startup, Valiant is creating an alternative to chemical thrusters typically used to maneuver objects in space.
The team is creating a solution designed to offer a high-power, low-cost and non-toxic alternative, improving safety and reducing logistical complexities.
Last month, the business secured a $200,000 Australian Space Agency Grant to conduct a feasibility study alongside space services company Skykraft.
“This is not just a win for Valiant, but also for Australia,” Andrew Uscinski, co-founder and chief of Valiant Space said in a statement.
“In-space thrusters have proven crucial to the success of other space-faring nations, so growing this capability here in Australia will unlock a lot of opportunity for our space industry.”
This is just a handful of the Aussie space tech startups lifting off — we couldn’t name them all.
But if you’re a space-tech founder with an astronomical story to tell, get in touch.
by Stephanie Palmer-Derrien
30 June 2021