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

An artist's conception shows Gravitics' StarMax module in orbit.  (gravitic illustration)

An artist’s conception shows Gravitics’ StarMax module in orbit. (gravitic illustration)

A space venture called Gravitics grew out of stealth with $20 million in seed money and a plan to build space station modules at a 42,000-square-foot facility north of Seattle, in Marysville, Washington.

As NASA plans to phase out the International Space Station in the 2031 time frame, Gravitics and its backers are betting on a rush to launch commercial outposts to low Earth orbit. The operators of those outposts may need subcontractors to provide the hardware.

Gravitics’ main offering will be a super-sized module known as StarMax. The general-purpose module would provide up to 400 cubic meters (14,000 cu ft) of usable habitable volume — representing nearly half the pressurized volume of the International Space Station.

Multiple StarMax modules can be linked 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 press release today. “StarMax gives our customers scalable volume to accommodate a space station’s growing user base over time. StarMax is the modular building block for a human-centered 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,” says Tarek Waked of Type One Ventures, who has joined Gravitics’ board of directors. “Having scalable space infrastructure made 100% 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 increasingly accessible. is becoming.”

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

Other prominent members of the Gravitics team include Chief Engineer Bill Tandy, a veteran of Ball Aerospace and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace company; and technical director Scott Macklin, former head of propulsion at Virgin Orbit. Gravitics says its workforce has grown to nearly 40 people, including full-time employees and contractors.

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

The ground pressure tests would pave the way for an orbital test mission that has yet to be announced. Pre-orders will be taken as early as 2026 for module delivery.

Gravitics will likely face challenges as it tries to break into a market alongside major players, including Thales Alenia Space (which produces 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 a TechCrunch interview, Waled of Type One said he expected SpaceX’s Starship super rocket — which is still in development — to open up new opportunities for Gravitics in the coming years. “We’re betting that Starship will revolutionize the industry,” he said.

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

TechCrunch said Gravitics executives were already in talks with Florida development groups about building a production and integration facility near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — with an area larger than that of the Marysville facility.

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