The last five years have changed the game for European space technology companies.
Investors are flocking to a sector once perceived as too capital intensive with too narrow a set of buyers. Venture capital funding for space technology companies saw a record $2.5 billion raised in 2021, according to data compiled by Dealroom.
Sure, the investment then tanked, as it did in virtually all other fields of technology — to less than $1 billion by 2022. But space has never been cheaper and easier to access, and VCs are piling money into startups whose capabilities could power the next few decades of earthbound innovation, from near-time imaging from the effects of climate change to the high-speed Internet needs of self-driving cars.
Coinciding with the launch of our new Space Technology Report, Sifted asked some key investors for their top picks for space technology. The only catch: they couldn’t choose from their own portfolio.
From aspiring SpaceX clones to companies hoping to open the first “space factories” and grow new tissues and organs off-planet, here are 16 space-tech startups that venture capitalists say are ready to take off.
Candace Johnson, Chair of the Seraphim Space Fund Advisory Board and Vice President of NorthStar Earth and Space
A serial entrepreneur and investor, Johnson is vice president of Canadian satellite constellation company NorthStar Earth and Space and chairman of the advisory board of the Seraphim Space Fund.
I am unabashedly supporting women in space with my first two picks. Based in France, CEO Barbara Belvisi and her team are building capsules for sustainable living in space. The company aims to build mini-greenhouses in low-Earth orbit by 2025, the Moon by 2027, and Mars by 2030.
I’m also looking at this deep-tech company, which designs miniaturized thrusters for small satellites, increasing the lifespan of satellites and making them more affordable. I have been a mentor to the Norwegian CEO, Ane Aanesland, for quite a few years and now she is really gaining ground with clients.
Everything about in-orbit services (think satellite refueling and repair) is exciting and promising, and that’s what Infinite Orbits is working on. I have been a mentor to this Toulouse-based company for five years. Last fall, the company entered into a partnership with [US satellite group] Intelsat. When I met them, no one believed in the in-orbit service, which I believe can literally give GEO (geostationary orbit) satellites a second life.
Adam Niewinski, Co-Founder and General Partner at OTB Ventures
OTB Ventures is a $300 million asset-under-management venture capital firm focused on space technology, AI and automation, financial technology, and cybersecurity. Its portfolio includes space technology companies such as Iceye, HydroSat and SpaceKnow.
This company plans to build autonomous rendezvous and docking systems for the emerging space economy. In the not too distant future, we can imagine that more and more space activities will take place (refueling and repair, but also debris removal), which will require all kinds of vehicles to get close and perhaps dock with each other. . The team behind Kurs draws on decades of experience gained from the Ukrainian Space Agency, which has built similar systems for legacy Soyuz (Russian spacecraft) missions.
This UK startup wants to take manufacturing in the space of new materials like never before.-viewed “space factories”: the infrastructure we will need to build after the International Space Station is put on hold after 2030. More precisely, the company wants to take advantage of the specific zero-gravity conditions to unlock entirely new possibilities in semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and alloys.
This Polish company uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from satellites, which, according to NASA’s helpful definition, is “a type of active data collection in which a sensor produces its own energy and then records the amount of that reflected energy after interacting with the Earth”, to create advanced AI-based analytics products. The signal responds to surface-level things like structure and moisture. Their first successful products are for detecting and classifying ships in the ocean.
Maureen Haverty, Vice President of Seraphim Space
Seraphim Space was the first fund in Europe to focus on space technology. He runs an accelerator program for early-stage companies, while his fund focuses on Series A investing, from proof of concept to scaling. The portfolio includes D-Orbit, Satellite Vu and All.Space.
This company started out making satellite parts at a very affordable price and has since moved up the value chain to make and operate satellites for customers. Now it’s cornering “constellation as a service,” which involves taking customers’ equipment and sensors and rolling it out as a distributed platform in space. Great CEO and team here, who have become a real market player despite really low funding and their “edge of Europe” location in Bulgaria.
These guys are developing a reusable space plane and a hypersonic transport plane. The CEO is ex-DLR (NASA from Germany) and has made incredible progress in a very short time with very limited funding. The company demonstrated a subsonic aircraft last year, which it built for the German armed forces.
The exploration company
here is another really ambitious German company, which is developing a reusable and returnable launch vehicle that can orbit the Earth and the Moon for several months. The hope is that it can be used to resupply space stations, land on and return to the moon, and conduct experiments and R&D in space. Led by an awesome CEO (Helene Hubby), a former Vice Chairman of Airbus, has a strong European customer base and team.
This is a well backed launch vehicle company — again German — which has raised several hundred million pounds from some very high-profile people, and already has contracts with Germany’s DLR. Isar develops and builds launch vehicles to launch small and medium-sized satellites into orbit.
This company conducts biotech R&D in space. Why? The unique microgravity environment affects the way crystals and tissues develop, making it a promising avenue for drug delivery as well as tissue and organ growth. Space biotech is expected to be a huge market, and this company stands apart from the competition because it has a stellar scientific team (particularly its chief scientific officer, Daniela Bezdan).
Steven Jacobs, Lakestar Chief Product Officer and Venture Partner
Zurich-based Lakestar invests in companies of all sizes – from start-up to growth. Its portfolio includes Isar Aerospace and Constell R.
Founded in 2011 in Italy, D-Orbit has grown to become Europe’s leading space logistics company, providing last-mile launch and delivery services for satellite operators to reach their desired orbit. The team has a solid track record of many successful missions and is constantly innovating new services to address the growing need for transportation in space.
This company, founded in Switzerland in 2018, is helping to combat the risk of increasing space junk by building a first-of-its-kind active debris removal service. In addition, the company is a pioneer in the development of proximity operations to carry out critical services in orbit, such as life extension missions for satellite operators.
Matteo Cascinari, partner at Primo Ventures
Primo Space Fund, launched in July 2020, is the first Italian venture capital fund specialized in space technology.
A very interesting Italian robotics startup founded by two young men who make adaptive mechatronic devices that can grab any object both on Earth and in space.
Another Italian startup, which uses satellite data to monitor weather conditions on Earth. For example, you can estimate carbon stocks of reforestation projects for companies in the carbon credit market.
Founded in 2021, this company develops electric pumps for liquid space propulsion, creating reusable motors for launch vehicles, and completes my trifecta of Italian start-ups. Also, their “hardware as a service” business model is innovative and worth looking into.
Sifted goes into orbit with our new Space Technology Report, which looks at the European companies driving the next decades of ground-based innovation.
Éanna Kelly is a contributing editor at Sifted. He tweets from @EannaKelly1