An artist rendering of the company's space station in orbit.
Houston-based Axiom Space will fully expand production of private space stations while flying paying passengers into orbit while traveling. The company announced Tuesday that it had raised $ 130 million in a new round of funding.
"This round allows us to make an important payment to build our [space station] module and build the team we have expanded at a crazy pace," Michael Suffredini, President and CEO of Axiom, told CNBC.
Axiom declined to comment specifically on its valuation, but Suffredini said the company is now "well behind the point" of becoming a unicorn, meaning its valuation has exceeded $ 1 billion. This makes Axiom one of the 10 most valuable private US space companies.
The company's final round of funding was led by C5 Capital and supported by Declaration Partners – backed by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group – and by TQS Advisors, Moelis Dynasty Investments, University of Washington at St. Louis, The Venture Collective, Aidenlair Capital. Hemisphere Ventures and Starbridge Venture Capital.
Rob Meyerson, operating partner at C5 and past President of Blue Origin, will also join Axiom's board of directors.
"Axiom Space is a force in the space sector and will be a central element of the C5 Capital portfolio and enhance our vision for a secure global future," Meyerson said in a statement.
Suffredini noted that C5 hit Axiom for leading the round in June. However, it took until December to complete the funding round as some investors struggled to "get the money".
He stressed that the delays were not "due to a lack of interest". "The market is excited about what we are doing," as it clearly falls into an emerging sector of the space industry, while many companies focus on missiles or satellites, he said.
Axiom was talking about going public, Suffredini said, especially as special-purpose acquisition companies have become an option for space companies looking to raise funds. Suffredini expects the company to reassess the "public versus private" conversation the next time it searches for capital. He added that Axiom "has two to three acquisitions that we will consider over the next year" as it explores ways to add complementary functionality as the company grows.
Axiom has raised $ 150 million since it was founded in 2016. CEO Kam Ghaffarian provided seed funding through IBX, his family office. Ghaffarian co-founded Axiom and Suffredini shortly after he retired as NASA program manager for the International Space Station.
Axioms Private Astronaut Missions
Crew Dragon's spaceship "Resilience" approaches the International Space Station in orbit.
Flying a crew of four private astronauts on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is Axiom's short-term focus. The mission, named AX-1, is expected to start in January and will be the first fully private flight to the ISS.
Axiom plans to make private flying astronauts a routine part of its business, with the new funds helping "make payments for things we need to buy," Suffredini said
"We intend to do a couple of flights a year," he said.
He said the missions – which cost more than $ 200 million each – "really pay off" in the long run, with Axiom's funds helping to create a payment plan for its customers and SpaceX.
"Especially on these flights, where we make payments for certain services and items, we make up the customer's payments and then pay back ourselves," said Suffredini.
Axiom's AX-1 mission will bring former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, real estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe to the space station. Lopez-Alegria is the spacecraft commander and Connor is the pilot, while Pathy and Stibbe are mission specialists.
Build goals in space
A partition for the company's first module after forging.
Axiom's focus on space goes beyond flying passengers. The company is working on habitable modules that connect to the ISS and work independently in orbit.
"Everyone builds missiles, but no one has built targets to go to," said Ghaffarian. "Lots of companies build trips into space, but where are they going, especially when the International Space Station retires?"
Axiom aims to double its 110 employees this year and reach 1,000 by the end of 2024. The company is also building a 322,000-square-foot headquarters at the Houston Spaceport in Ellington Field, near the NASA Center's Johnson Space.
The company will first build a manufacturing bay similar to the one at Kennedy Space Center, where modules for the ISS were built, and then grow from there. Axiom's headquarters will include assembly areas, a control center, training facilities and even hangars for the jets needed for astronaut training flights.
Given the cost of scaling his ambitions, Suffredini expects Axiom will continue to raise funds over the next four years. But the opportunity represents "a huge market," said Ghaffarian.
"It's not just about building a space station where there is a target," said Ghaffarian. "Whether it's manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, private astronauts, or even satellite service, all kinds of infrastructure as a service are really the model we're thinking about."
Suffredini said Axiom has started speaking to companies in other industries, some "don't even realize microgravity can help them" and others who don't have access to the ISS. Some companies, including Procter & Gamble and retinal implant specialist LambdaVision, have carried out research on board the ISS.
"Some aspects that we haven't even thought about will be there, just like in the early days of the internet when we couldn't foresee everything we could do with the internet," said Ghaffarian. "We are building a platform on which the whole economy [low-earth orbit] or the space economy can build."
First step: Establish a connection to the ISS
A picture of three of the company's modules connected to the International Space Station.
Ghaffarian said, "Successful companies are those companies that are profitable, otherwise they are not sustainable."
Axiom has already started generating revenue for its space stations. As early as 2024, NASA commissioned the company to connect a habitable module to the ISS. The seven-year contract has a maximum award value of $ 140 million, Suffredini said beyond development, including launching and operating the module once it is connected to the space station.
"It's exciting because it's the first commercial space station in the world and we're going to connect to the ISS," said Suffredini.
It's an addition that NASA is eagerly awaiting. The space agency notes that Axiom's latest round of donations "is further evidence that NASA's low-earth orbit commercial strategy is gaining traction."
"Capital markets are reacting, and many companies have turned to NASA to work with us on our various low-earth orbit commercial initiatives," said Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight development. "We are still in the early stages of transitioning low-earth orbit from a government-dominated arena to one where the private sector takes the lead."
"There is still a lot to be done and it will take many companies to successfully build a sustainable economy in space, but this is a positive sign," said McAlister.
The Axiom Station modules will help increase the usable and habitable volume of the ISS. According to Suffredini, Axiom sourced the parts of its modules that took the longest to arrive, having "signed major vendors" and "early design".
"The most important part of this procurement that we competed for and ultimately won was the fact that it wasn't about how NASA gave enough money to develop – because if NASA did this they would just end up with the next one Own space station. ”Suffredini said. "If we could make all of our money on the NASA contract, we wouldn't be working very hard to build the market."
The company then plans to take off its Axiom Station modules in late 2028, when the 20-year-old ISS is expected to retire. According to Suffredini, if NASA expands use of the ISS, the Axiom Station will remain connected while the company builds other free-flying private space stations.
"The most important part of this concept is that with everything that happens on the ISS, there is a very smooth transition from the state-owned and operated facility to a commercial facility," Suffredini said.
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