The SpaceFund Rising Star project is designed to highlight those companies who we believe have the best shot at transforming the “space” of space. The Rising Stars we feature will include teams developing new technologies and creating new markets as they work to open the frontier. We do not attest nor imply our endorsement of them or their products, nor are any of our statements meant to suggest or advise investments in them. Also, while we may or may not invest in them ourselves at some point, we feel they are noteworthy enough to highlight in this format for the education of the industry, media and public.
Founders of SpaceFund include those who were among the first to engage in private human spaceflight projects, from MirCorp to the flight of Dennis Tito, the first paying customer to fly to the International Space Station. This is because a natural and necessary next step in humanity’s settlement of space is to grow beyond government facilities and develop a human centered private sector economy.
From what we understand, Axiom Space exists to make this happen, with its blend of deep NASA/ISS heritage and commercial agility – and their timing may be just right. In offering flights to the International Space Station today, while concurrently developing the world’s first commercial space station, Axiom represents one robust and comprehensive path to a dynamic, sustainable space economy. Along with other private space station developers, Axiom is planting a stake in the high ground of LEO.
Axiom’s modules will be on-orbit facilities for national (sovereign) astronauts, space tourism (private astronauts), research and manufacturing in microgravity, testing of deep space exploration systems, and advertising. By serving these audiences, Axiom carries on the efforts the ISS began. First attached to the ISS as the Axiom Segment, and later composing the free-flying Axiom Station, the commercial space station will open life and work in space to the entirety of the global community.
Products such as superior fiber optics, superalloys, stem cell and other biologics such as protein crystals are among the small set of currently known unique uses of microgravity. The Axiom platform offers an “industrial park” where this work can be carried out.
Axiom Space was founded by Michael T. Suffredini, who served as NASA’s ISS Program manager from 2005 to 2015, and Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, the founder of Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies – NASA’s outsourcer for astronaut training and ISS operations. Also included among its leadership are: VP of Business Development Michael López-Alegría, a four-time astronaut and NASA spacewalk record-holder; VP of Operations Brent Jett, a four-time astronaut and former director of NASA’s Flight Crew Operations office; Chief Business Officer Amir Blachman, the former managing director of an international space investment syndicate; and Chief Engineer Dr. Mike Baine, a longtime NASA engineer who served as the lead on the Project Morpheus planetary lander project. Axiom’s leadership has been involved with every ISS mission since the program’s inception. This distinguished team was among many reasons Axiom secured early investment from VC, angel and hedge fund investors including Hemisphere Ventures, Drake Management, IBX, Starbridge Capital and AngelList Funds.
What We Like
Location, location, location. If what they say is true – and within a practical margin of engineering bravado error we believe it is – within a few years Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are going to be able to transport large numbers of people to and from space. Yet today, outside of China’s government facility, we have only one space station in orbit. In other words, after decades of moving slowly, it is quite possible we may soon see a housing shortage in space. The time to begin developing the needed technologies, let alone testing them in space is already behind us. Thus, with its plan to evolve out of the International Space Station, Axiom can leverage the billions already invested into human habitation, and build on the existing knowledge base as well as the physical base it provides. As NASA and the ISS partners begin to look beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Axiom is poised to provide a path that gets to private activities and yet also supports the government agenda, helping assure important political support. With their team’s decades of familiarity with human spaceflight, combined with some savvy business oriented founders and management, they are one of only a handful of companies poised to get in on the “ground floor” of human space.
The company’s biggest challenge will not be gravity, but given their space agency heritage, their ability to outgrow their cost plus roots and develop lean, mean budgeting and get ‘er done technologies while putting safety and users first. So far, their plans and hires have shown they are keenly aware of these challenges, and are actively importing and developing innovative team members and systems.
Along with these attributes, we like that the company has a business plan that builds incrementally on shorter term revenues, such as flying paying guests to the ISS in the near future. This not only generates cash, but by the very nature of the customers, creates a cadre of potential high net worth investors and indeed evangelists for their future development.
Axiom Station will be assembled while connected to the ISS, serving in the interim to grow the ISS’ habitable and usable volume.
The completed Axiom Station will upgrade life and work in orbit for international governmental, commercial, and private use.
One of Axiom Station’s best-known features is the Earth Observatory, which will feature 360-degree views of the Earth with an occupancy of six to eight.
Axiom in The News
With the private sector moving aggressively into space, NASA is no longer the only game in town for would-be space travelers…
Then there is Axiom Space, a Houston company that intends to begin building a private space station for wealthy space tourists this year. Axiom hopes to launch its first two modules in 2023.
How much would you pay for a month aboard the International Space Station — and will your employer cover the cost?
… Last year privately held Axiom Space began marketing a similar program, offering a 10-day visit aboard ISS for $55 million. (Axiom eventually hopes to build its own “space hotel,” independent of ISS, for this service.)
A pair of private American companies brought a key material sample for an upcoming space station from simple concept to testing in space in only six months, in a sign of the burgeoning commercial space industry’s responsiveness and agility.
More Updates from the Frontier
OrbitFab is an example of the new way to do business in space by disrupting from within – identify a need based on a blindspot in the traditional market and apply the frontier paradigm to the solution. Also, if you can, work within the system, burn as little of your investor’s funds as needed and get to the proof of your concept as fast as possible.
Building and flying rockets is a prime obsession of many male engineers and entrepreneurs in this industry, and because the space industry is still mainly made up of boys, well, there are a lot of rockets. Too many rockets in fact (and yes, too many boys as well, but that’s a different blog post).
Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, and space company Blue Origin, received the Space Cowboy Award. The prestigious award was presented by Rick Tumlinson, and awarded to Bezos for his pioneering work and commitment to opening the frontier of space.