Ursa Major raises $ 85 million to disrupt vertically integrated launches industry – TechCrunch
The launch area is crowded. Many of the bigger players build their own rocket engines, but space starts the Great Bear made the bet that many new launch vendors would prefer to outsource the engine rather than build it in-house.
Six years after being founded by former SpaceX and Blue Origin propulsion engineer Joe Laurienti, the company is ready to step up its ambitions and has just closed its biggest funding round to date: an 85 million Series C of dollars led by funds and accounts. managed by BlackRock, as well as participation from XN, Alsop Louie, Alpha Edison, Dolby Family Ventures, KCK, Space Capital, Explorer 1, Harpoon Ventures and others.
âA lot of what we’re trying to bring to market is this next step,â Laurienti explained. âWe want to move this industry towards much faster life cycles. “
To get there, Ursa Major wants to quickly manufacture engines – up to one per week in 2022, then two per week. (Currently, it takes about five days for a single employee to assemble an engine and up to a few weeks to prepare it for shipping to customers.) The company has won a handful of commercial customers, including Phantom Space and Stratolaunch, and R&D contracts with the government, although its engines have yet to see space.
âSix years ago it only made sense that there was a pretty complex ecosystem to launch because the space was going to need a lot of accessibility,â Laurienti said. While the cost of launch has declined, the demand for space launch services is only expected to increase for the remainder of the decade. Fortune Business Insights estimates that the global market size for the launch will grow from $ 12.67 billion in 2019 to $ 26.16 billion by 2027.
But rocket engines are one of the most difficult pieces of equipment to develop; one need only look at Blue Origin’s bumpy efforts to develop BE-4 engines for the United Launch Alliance – or Elon Musk’s letter to employees about a âRaptor production crisisâ – to see that engine development is not an easy task.
The company has two products: the Hadley, a 5,000 pound thrust kerosene liquid oxygen engine that is now entering production; and the Ripley, the next-generation engine that is 10 times more powerful than Hadley with 50,000 pounds of thrust. The company is expected to deliver more than 50 Hadley engines next year, with the Ripley going into production within the next two years, Laurienti said.
He compared Ursa Major to a company like Intel, which is constantly innovating with more powerful processors and outsourcing that expertise to brands like Dell and Lenovo. âWe really like the idea that we’re a technology development company, and the companies that fly rockets today shouldn’t be flying the same engine that they designed for their rocket 10 years ago. This is the paradigm we see in vertical integration.
The company has a plant in Colorado where it manufactures the engines, which are largely 3D printed, and which are collocated with the company’s three test stands where each engine is tested before seeing a customer. Ursa Major plans to use the new capital to scale up its manufacturing operations and begin development of additional engines.