Today's Space Tech Boom with Apex's Ian Cinnamon and Mark Suster | E1946

Today's Space Tech Boom with Apex's Ian Cinnamon and Mark Suster | E1946

Ian Cinnamon joins guest host Mark Suster. (00:00:00)

  • Ian Cinnamon, co-founder and CEO of Apex, joins Mark Suster as a guest host.

Why space is a hot sector right now with startups and investors. (00:01:53)

  • Space has become a core focus for many industries due to its enabling capabilities.
  • The cost and frequency of launching payloads into space have significantly decreased in recent years.
  • Companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab have drastically reduced the cost of satellite launches.
  • SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has increased reliability, further lowering costs and increasing launch frequency.
  • Engineers from SpaceX have spun out to create their own startups, similar to the trend seen with Amazon Web Services in 2009.
  • The 90% reduction in launch costs has led to a Cambrian explosion of startups in the space industry.

The importance of building Apex in L.A. (00:04:49)

  • Ian Cinnamon, co-founder of Apex, explains why they chose to build their company in Los Angeles instead of Silicon Valley or New York.
  • Los Angeles has a high density of talent in the aerospace industry, including SpaceX, Caltech, JPL, and other universities.
  • The traditional aerospace companies like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are also headquartered in the LA area.
  • Los Angeles is home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which designed the propulsion systems that enabled rockets to reach the moon.
  • Caltech, one of the leading science schools in the United States, collaborates with JPL.
  • The space tech industry is experiencing rapid growth, with many new companies entering the market.
  • This growth is being driven by several factors, including:
    • The increasing demand for satellite services, such as broadband internet and Earth observation.
    • The development of new technologies, such as reusable rockets and 3D printing, which are making space travel more affordable and accessible.
    • The growing interest in space exploration, both from governments and private companies.
  • The space tech boom is creating new jobs and opportunities, and it is also having a positive impact on the economy.

Ian’s background and what brought him to the space industry. (00:06:44)

  • Ian grew up in Los Angeles, surrounded by the space ecosystem.
  • He was always interested in space but was discouraged by the high cost and low frequency of space travel.
  • After college, Ian moved to the Bay Area and started a company called Synaps, which applied artificial intelligence and computer vision to national security applications.
  • Synaps was successful but not growing rapidly enough for Ian's ambitions.
  • In 2020, Ian sold Synaps to Palantir and began working on satellite data analysis.
  • He realized that the satellite data market had exploded since 2015 and that there were many new commercial entities putting satellites into orbit.
  • Ian was inspired by the potential of the space industry and decided to get involved.

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Origin story and perfect fit with Apex co-founder Max Benassi. (00:11:13)

  • Ian Cinnamon met Max Benassi, his co-founder, in 2020 through a mutual friend.
  • Max had a unique role at SpaceX, where he was responsible for scaling production of aerospace components.
  • Ian was impressed by Max's engineering mindset and his ability to think beyond just engineering.
  • Max moved to the Bay Area to scale production at Astra, focusing on their EP system (a thruster for satellites).
  • Ian and Max continued to brainstorm ideas and were drawn together by their shared interests.

What Apex does and why Max’s manufacturing skillset matters. (00:13:25)

  • Apex builds the core component of satellites called a satellite bus or satellite platform.
  • Traditionally, satellite platforms have been custom-made, but Apex aims to mass-produce them, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
  • Reducing satellite costs is crucial for increasing launch frequency and meeting the demand for faster satellite deployment.
  • A satellite bus is the core component of a satellite, while the payload refers to specialized equipment such as cameras, optical equipment, or radar.
  • Traditionally, payload developers would approach large prime contractors like Northrup or Lockheed to build custom satellite buses for their payloads.
  • Apex aims to disrupt the market by offering standardized satellite buses that can accommodate various payloads, reducing costs and streamlining the process.

Cost of satellites then and now. (00:16:03)

  • The cost of an earth observation satellite, including the bus and payload, was around $60 million, with a five to six-year production time.
  • Launch costs have decreased by 90%, becoming a less critical component.
  • Apex's satellites start at $3.5 million, representing a 90% reduction in historical costs.
  • There are approximately 5,000 satellites in space, with more being launched daily.
  • The industry is shifting towards launching smaller, proliferated satellites instead of single, large satellites.
  • SpaceX's increased launch frequency and Starship's potential for increased mass transportation are expected to further accelerate satellite deployment.

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Details about the satellite bus at Apex. (00:21:25)

  • Apex focuses on building standardized satellite buses for three core areas of the market.
  • A satellite bus includes everything needed for a payload to function in space, such as power, communication, and thermal capacity.
  • Satellites launched today typically last about five years in low Earth orbit due to gravity and the cost-effectiveness of launching new satellites.

The differences and business implications of LEO, MEO and GEO. (00:23:43)

  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is the closest orbit to Earth, typically around 400-500 km in altitude, and is the most accessible for satellite deployment due to reduced launch costs.
  • LEO satellites offer advantages such as easier visibility of Earth, faster signal transmission, and lower latency, making them suitable for applications like Earth observation, communication, and IoT connectivity.
  • LEO satellites require propulsion systems to counteract Earth's gravitational pull and maintain their orbit, with options including no propulsion, electric propulsion, and chemical propulsion.
  • LEO satellites typically orbit the Earth every 90 minutes and can cross over every point on Earth multiple times a day, depending on the launch trajectory.
  • Sun-synchronous launches are commonly used to ensure coverage of all areas on Earth as the satellite orbits and rotates simultaneously.
  • Solar power is the long-term solution for satellites in LEO, with batteries used to store solar power and provide a continuous power supply during periods when the satellite is in Earth's shadow.
  • Payload companies generate revenue by providing data for various applications, including financial monitoring, climate change research, manufacturing in space, and defense.

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  • Ian Cinnamon, CEO of Apex, and Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront Ventures, discuss the current boom in space technology.
  • The new space race is driven by private companies rather than governments.
  • Private companies are developing reusable rockets, which significantly reduces the cost of space travel.
  • This has led to a surge in investment in space technology.
  • The space industry is expected to grow from $350 billion in 2020 to $1 trillion by 2040.
  • Space technology has a wide range of applications, including:
  • There are still a number of challenges that need to be overcome in space technology, including:
    • The high cost of space travel
    • The harsh environment of space
    • The need for reliable and efficient space infrastructure
  • Despite the challenges, the future of space technology is bright.
  • Space technology has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of our lives, from the way we communicate to the way we travel.
  • The space industry is still in its early stages, and there is enormous potential for growth.

Their first Aries Satellite bus on it’s maiden voyage and a selfie from space. (00:30:29)

  • Apex, a space tech company, defied industry norms by launching their first satellite bus platform into orbit within 12 months and under $10 million, capturing an image of Earth from space.
  • Their rapid progress is driven by a passion for space and a mission to democratize access to space.
  • Apex received funding from Village Global, Andreessen Horowitz, and Shield Capital, focusing on positive unit economics by securing revenue before incurring costs.
  • The space industry is not solely government and military-focused, with commercial satellite infrastructure playing a vital role in everyday life.
  • Apex sees opportunities in providing satellite buses and services to various customers, including government agencies and commercial entities.
  • The space tech industry is booming, with over $30 billion spent annually on satellite buses alone, driven by reduced launch costs and new use cases.
  • Apex's customers include defense primes like Booz Allen Hamilton and commercial companies like UBOA, collaborating on dual-use projects.
  • The industry is transforming, with an increase in satellites launched into geospatial orbit and new use cases like pharmaceutical manufacturing in zero gravity and asteroid mining.
  • China and Russia's control over rare earth metals prompts Western countries to explore space mining.
  • The concept of Cy lunar orbits involves placing satellites around the Moon for refueling and resource extraction, with the Moon's resources and low gravitational force making it crucial for future space exploration.
  • Apex is expanding its production capacity by moving to a new facility in El Segundo, California, to meet the increasing demand for satellite buses.
  • Apex's satellite bus platform, Aries, can support a payload of 150 kilograms, with larger platforms, Nova and Comet, in development.

The current scale and expected growth at Apex. (00:53:30)

  • Apex is approaching 50 employees.
  • They are actively hiring for all roles, from engineering to business development to finance.
  • By the end of the year, they plan to double their staff to around 100 employees.
  • The majority of new hires will be engineers and production staff.
  • Job openings can be found on their website,
  • Their website allows customers to configure and reserve satellite buses online.
  • Apex has a focus on unit economics and is in a healthy financial position.
  • They are able to make money on satellites they sell and reinvest that money back into the company.

Competitions in the “space” space. (00:56:19)

  • Apex Space is looking to hire more people rather than seeking investors.
  • Apex Space sees traditional satellite bus manufacturers as collaborators rather than competitors.
  • Apex Space is the main player in standardized bus manufacturing for LEO (Low Earth Orbit).
  • Other companies are focusing on MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) right now.
  • Los Angeles had a big moment from 2015 to 2020 but went into a cocoon during COVID.
  • The energy in Los Angeles is now shifting towards hard tech and space.
  • There is a lot of people moving to Los Angeles, creating new companies, and capital going into the system.

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