Space Tug Firm D-Orbit Raises $100 Million As Space Economy Expands

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Courtesy of SpaceX’s rapid success with the Falcon 9 at bringing down global satellite launch costs, the demand for satellites and other associated equipment has also grown and enabled different players to gain footing in the market. One such firm is D-Orbit, whose space tugs work together with the Falcon 9 second stage to allow satellite firms to place their spacecraft in precise orbits while ensuring that launch costs remain low. D-Orbit has launched 13 commercial missions so far, and it seems like its success has convinced some investors after the company announced a cool $100 million in Series-C funding that the firm attributes to its record setting financial performance in 2023.

D-Orbit’s Triple Digit Revenue Growth & Strong Order Backlog Lead To Series C Funding

Even though SpaceX launched nearly hundred missions last year, the broader satellite market is still small when we compare it with other industries such as automobiles and gadgets. Naturally, this means that a few firms have to undertake high capital expenditure to compete for a smaller pie.

Yet, the potential offered by space is also limitless, both figuratively and literally. D-Orbit’s press release announcing its latest funding also notes this, with the firm stating that the “development of capabilities in space cloud computing and in orbit servicing” is enabling it to secure new customers and deepen partnerships within the public and research sections. The capital raise was led by a Japanese company working with D-Orbit to target the Asian market.

D-Orbit’s latest launch came on the Falcon 9 in December 2023 when its ION space tug was a secondary payload on a SpaceX mission for the South Korean military. SpaceX’s live stream for the launch saw the firm’s presenter explain that the rocket was carrying 25 spacecraft on board for six customers. All these were headed to a sun synchronous orbit.

D-Orbit’s ION space tug. Image: D-Orbit

While a space tug might sound boring on the surface, it helps expand the satellite industry by quite a bit. Some of the most diverse uses of space and satellites are in the cube satellite segment, with applications ranging from atmospheric sensing to Earth observation and imaging. D-Orbit’s ION space tug makes it feasible for cube satellite operators to leverage bigger rockets, such as the Falcon 9, for their launch needs. SpaceX is unlikely to launch a single cube satellite on its own on a Falcon 9, and rockets smaller than the Falcon do not have orbital flexibility.

This was also evident in D-Orbit’s latest launch, which saw the ION space tug carry eight satellites into space. These represented a global bunch of spacecraft that belonged to companies and other institutions located in Europe and the U.S.

An example of the innovative space use cases that space tugs allow is Thailand’s LOGSATS cube satellite launched by Patriot Infovention on the ION dug during D-Orbit’s latest mission. This satellite is designed to help monitor aircraft and control air traffic in Thailand. Before cube satellites could be launched with ease, satellites higher in altitude typically helped governments to monitor their airspace.

For its part, D-Orbit is also quite optimistic about the future of the space economy. It agrees with former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in that the space economy could become as valuable as $1 trillion due to the growing access to low Earth orbit (LEO). LEO allows researchers and others to investigate how materials behave differently than on Earth and if these differences can lead to solving problems such as printing artificial retinas.

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