Our Investment in Benchmark Space Systems

Demand for micro-satellite propulsion is taking off!

As investors, we like to think that we focus on big ideas, but we rarely have a chance to invest in a product that is, literally, out of this world. The rise of toaster-sized “CubeSats,” has provided us with just such an opportunity.

In recent years, cameras have become far better, all kinds of hardware have become miniaturized, and rocket launches have become far less expensive. Taken together, these seemingly disconnected technology trends — along with several others — have radically changed the economics of the satellite market. In the old days, satellites were big, rare, and expensive. In the new era, they will be small, numerous, and cheap.

With new opportunities come new challenges. CubeSats are bricks that cannot move or readjust once in orbit on their own, which significantly limits their lifespan and mission capacity. Benchmark Space is here to remake the status quo by providing CubeSats engines of their own at an affordable price. LaunchCapital is proud to invest in Benchmark Space’s seed round to transform the CubeSat landscape!

In 2016, the entire world only launched 88 CubeSats to orbit. In 2017, that number skyrocketed to 294. According to the Nanosatellite Database, the annual number of CubeSat launches is expected to grow to 700+ a year by 2023. In addition to space industry mainstays, new companies that launch CubeSats on dedicated rockets are raising huge sums from investors around the world. These newcomers include US-based Rocket Labs ($215MM raised), Vector Launch ($102MM raised), and China’s OneSpace ($74MM raised). From observation to communication, hardware miniaturization in sensors and equipment is allowing (relatively) affordable CubeSats to have greater applications than ever before. Space is now open for business, and it’s clear CubeSats will help propel that future.

Despite hardware miniaturization, a huge constraint on CubeSats’ value is their limited ability to perform maneuvers once deployed in orbit. Without propulsion, CubeSat lifespans are constrained by upper atmospheric drag and orbital decay, causing them to fall back to Earth after just a few years of use at most. CubeSats without engines are also stuck in the orbit they are initially deployed in as the majority are launched through ridesharing a rocket with multiple other CubeSats. Once deployed, CubeSats are at the mercy of gravity. Need to correct high spin post-deployment to stabilize? Want to get closer to Earth for scientific research? Difficult without engines. With new launch providers making CubeSats more accessible, there is a rising demand for satellite engines that provide greater mission flexibility.

Benchmark Space’s affordable, efficient, and powerful CubeSat propulsion solution is expanding the boundaries of what is possible for CubeSat operators. Benchmark’s turn-key engines extend CubeSat’s lifespan and enable significantly more flexible mission profiles. They provide an unmatched combination of performance and affordability, and we strongly believe that Benchmark Space can take significant market share in the fast-growing CubeSat space through its superior power consumption, efficiency, and price.

Compared to other chemical engines on the market, Benchmark’s engines are substantially more energy efficient without the sacrifice of thrust power. Their electric power consumption is magnitudes lower than competitors. Even under the best of circumstances, equipment and sensors place a large drain on a CubeSat’s battery reserve, and battery charging is only possible during sun exposure (inefficient when in Earth’s shadow). Power consumption has a huge premium in orbit, and Benchmark overcomes the constraints created by engine power drainage for operators.

While there are electric engine alternatives with greater fuel efficiency than Benchmark, electric engine options are extremely energy demanding (by a factor of 100x) while providing far less thrust. Benchmark delivers enough thrust for a diverse range of orbital maneuvers without compromising fuel and energy efficiency.

And that’s not all! Unlike incumbent engine providers who developed their CubeSat engines by down-scaling large rocket engines, Benchmark’s design stems from “ground-up engineering.” Inefficient design features are eliminated and only the most optimal parts are finalized, resulting in a more affordable architecture compared to competitors. We are very excited about the superior technological product that Benchmark Space has built and can’t wait for it to take off!

Most importantly, Benchmark is led by a superb team of engineers with a strong ability to execute. CEO Ryan McDevitt, PhD. is a veteran in the field with 10 years of experience in micro-propulsion. COO Matt Shea has a strong track record in product design and was the product engineer at Draper Labs for 7 tears. Founder-market fit is always a critical test for LaunchCapital, and we are proud to invest in the amazing technical and leadership talent at Benchmark.

At LaunchCapital, we believe that recent indicators suggest space commercialization will be a huge industry. We are extremely excited to invest in Benchmark to help them transform what satellites can do and to catalyze space commercialization. If you’re excited about exploring the final frontier and want to learn more about how Benchmark is changing the CubeSat industry, check them out at their website and join them on their journey.