Space station startup Gravitics lands $125 million order from Axiom

Business

A pathfinder for Gravitics’ 4-meter space station module design in use for developing manufacturing and assembly methods.
Gravitics

Washington-based startup Gravitics has signed a $125 million contract to expand Axiom Space’s planned space station, the latest deal in the burgeoning private market for orbiting habitats.

“Working with the station operator that will have hardware on orbit soonest is an exciting development,” Gravitics CEO and founder Colin Doughan told CNBC.

Axiom is one of several companies building private space stations as NASA plans for the International Space Station to end its time in orbit. Already, Axiom has modules of its space station being built by Italian aerospace contractor Thales Alenia. The Gravitics order adds another “pressurized spacecraft” that would attach to Axiom’s station after its planned launch in two years.

The agreement between Axiom and Gravitics, which was founded in 2021, represents the startup’s most significant yet. Gravitics previously raised a total of $20 million in venture funding as it looks to make its mark as a manufacturer of private space stations.

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The nearly 50-employee company, based in a northern suburb of Seattle, aims to provide space station modules — effectively the building blocks of the orbiting habitats — as a plug-and-play product line that can launch on a variety of rockets, whether those currently flying such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or future behemoths such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

The space station modules Gravitics is designing range from 3 meters (9 feet) to 8 meters (26 feet) in diameter. The largest module, which the company boasts will have the “largest interior volume in a standalone spacecraft,” is dubbed StarMax, a name inspired by SpaceX’s towering Starship rocket.

“We started by looking at Starship and saying, ‘Someone is going to maximize that payload volume,'” Doughan said.

At present, NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations, or CLD, program has been doling out development contracts to companies building space stations in anticipation of the ISS’ intentional destruction at the end of the decade. Axiom was the first to win a NASA contract for building space station modules, and Gravitics would connect its spacecraft later this decade.

But Gravitics’ deal is not exclusive, Doughan said.

“We hope to be on multiple teams for the [second phase of CLD], not as the prime [bidder] because we have zero interest in operations … But I do anticipate that you’ll start seeing some of the architectures reflect some [of our space station modules] built into some of these designs moving forward,” Doughan said.

Gravitics has been working on prototypes as well as testing key parts, such as test-firing its propulsion system and pressure-testing module prototypes. Doughan said Gravitics is flying some of its components to the ISS later this year for testing and plans to have a subscale spacecraft launched by 2026.

A propulsion system test firing at Gravitics’ facility in Marysville, Washington.
Gravitics

“We’re a very hardware-rich company, so we’re building at the same time we’re finalizing design,” Doughan said.

The company signed an agreement with NASA on new approaches to testing large spacecraft, as well as an early Space Force development contract. The latter contract, Doughan emphasized, represents Gravitics working “with those customers that are ready to buy.”

“Space Force’s budget is already ballooning beyond NASA’s, and it won’t stop,” Doughan said.

The Axiom deal is a catalyst for Gravitics’ growth, Doughan said, as the company plans to double its head count in the coming months and kick off a new round of fundraising.

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