Space tech rockets higher

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Venture investment in space technology is hitting stratospheric heights in recent quarters. But investors in the sector are betting it will rocket higher still.

The latest example of high-velocity funding is satellite internet startup OneWeb, which recently announced a galactic-sized $1.25 billion venture funding round in the wake of a successful launch. The financing, which included a long investor list featuring the ever spendy SoftBank, brought total funding for the Arlington, Va. company to a whopping $3.4 billion.

But OneWeb is far from the only space tech company to secure a big round recently. A Crunchbase News roundup of large investments in the sector unearthed a sizable list of companies attracting attention and big checks from venture capitalists, with at least a half dozen securing rounds of $50 million or more since 2018.

What’s the draw? Largely, it’s the oft-repeated tale of a startup sector seeing valuations rise as early-stage companies mature, said Chad Anderson, CEO of investor group Space Angels.

“The barriers to entry came down in 2009, when SpaceX provided increased access to space through low-cost launch and transparent pricing,” Anderson said. “We saw the first pioneering companies, like Planet [former Planet Labs]*, take advantage of that new access starting in 2013.”

Now, the crop of space tech companies that launched five or six years ago is middle-aged by startup standards and ripe for larger, later-stage rounds.

Economics of satellite design and launch have also become a lot more compelling for investors in recent years. Whereas satellites previously cost hundreds of millions (or even billions) to design, manufacture, and launch, today a small satellite can be built for tens of thousands of dollars and launched for a few hundred thousand dollars, Anderson said.

Venture capitalists seem to like that math. Over the past 10 calendar years, Space Angels estimates that venture capital funds have invested nearly $4.2 billion into space companies. Of that total, 70 percent was deployed in the last three calendar years.

More firms are getting into the space, as well. Currently, Anderson calculates that just over 40 percent of the Top 100 venture capital firms now have at least one space investment. Their investments are concentrated in two areas: satellites and launch technology, particularly for the small satellite space.

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