Start-up Space Blasts Off

Bryce Space and Technology has produced a new report, Start-up Space: Update on Investment in Commercial Space Ventures.

Below is the executive summary. You can also download the full report.

Executive Summary

The Start-Up Space series examines space investment in the 21st century and analyzes investment trends, focusing on investors in new companies that have acquired private financing. Space is continuing to attract increased attention in Silicon Valley and in investment communities world-wide. Space ventures now appeal to investors because new, lower-cost systems are envisioned to follow the path terrestrial tech has profitably traveled: dropping system costs and massively increasing user bases for new products, especially new data products. Large valuations and exits are demonstrating the potential for high returns.
Start-Up Space reports on investment in start-up space ventures, defined as space companies that began as angel- and venture capital-backed start-ups. The report tracks seed, venture, and private equity investment in start-up space ventures as they grow and mature, over the period 2000 through 2016. The report includes debt financing for these companies where applicable to provide a complete picture of the capital available to them and also highlights start-up space venture merger and acquisition (M&A) activity.

Significant Investment in Start-up Space. Start-up space ventures have attracted over $16.6 billion of investment, including $5.1 billion in debt financing, since 2000. Over 140 angel- and venture-backed space companies have been founded and funded since 2000. Fifteen of these companies have been acquired, at a total value of $3.2 billion. See Table E-1.

Growth in Recent Years. Start-up space investment activity has increased.

  • Looking at investment only (excluding debt financing), two-thirds of investment in start-up space ventures since 2000 has been in the last five years.
  • Venture capital in start-up space companies since 2000 totals $4.5 billion, with 86 percent in the last five years.
  • Three start-up space investments have exceeded one billion dollars: Jeff Bezos is estimated to have invested more than $1 billion in Blue Origin since 2000, Google and Fidelity invested $1 billon in SpaceX in 2015, and Softbank and other investors invested $1.2 billion in OneWeb in 2016.
  • In the early 2000s, an average of three funded space companies were started per year. In the last five years, the number of funded new companies has averaged nearly 17 per year.
  • More than 80 percent of the value of acquisitions of start-up space ventures since 2000 has been transactions in the last five years. SES acquired O3b for $730 million (2016). Apple acquired Mapsense for $25 million (2015). Google acquired Terra Bella (formerly Skybox Imaging) for $478 million (2014). Longford Energy acquired Urthecast for $29 million (2013). In 2009, ViaSat acquired WildBlue for $568 million. In addition, Uber acquired deCarta in 2015 and Spaceflight Industries acquired OpenWhere in 2016, for undisclosed amounts.

Investment in 2016: More Funding, Fewer Deals. The year 2016 saw continued, strong investment in start-up space ventures. Including acquisitions and debt financing, 2016 exceeded a record-breaking 2015 by about 1 percent in total, making 2016 the highest investment year for start-up space. Average deal size increased by about 50 percent, while the number of deals, investors, and firms reporting new funding all decreased by about 30 percent.

  • 114 investors put $2.8 billion into 43 start-up space ventures across 49 deals.
  • While total investment increased slightly, 2016 saw roughly 30 percent fewer investors and fewer deals compared to 2015. The number of deals dropped from 73 to 49, and the number of investors from 161 to 114.
  • As a result, deal size overall was larger than in 2015. Average deal size increased from $38 million to about $57 million (across all investment types, including acquisitions and debt financing).
  • The total number of start-up space companies reporting new funding also declined by about 30 percent. In 2015, 61 start-up space companies reported new funding; this number dropped to 43 in 2016.
  • Three acquisitions in 2016 totaled $963 million, including SES’s $730 million purchase of O3b Networks.


Venture Capital Generally Strong, But Fewer Megadeals.
Nearly $1.5 billion in venture capital was invested in space deals in 2016. Over 60 venture capital firms invested in start-up space. In addition, 2016 saw a very large venture investment by an atypical venture investor. Softbank and other investors provided $1.2 billion of funding to OneWeb. (Similarly, 2015 saw a large, atypical venture transaction with the Google/Fidelity investment of $1 billion in SpaceX.) Venture capital declined 22 percent from 2015 ($1.9 billion) to 2016.

Excluding the Softbank investment and other very large deals of which there were three in 2015 — the Google/Fidelity investment, OneWeb’s Series A ($500 million), and Planet’s Series C ($106 million) — a different story emerges. Looking only at more typical venture investments, venture capital was about the same from 2015 to 2016, around $260 million. Across all U.S. venture capital investments (not only space), after a record-setting 2015, there was a slowdown in 2016, with investment reportedly dropping about 12 percent according to the National Venture Capital Association.

The number of start-up space venture deals in 2016 (18) declined by nearly half from 2015. The average investment was $80.7 million, compared to $60.3 million in 2015. Excluding the three large ($100 million and above) venture investments in 2015, and the one large venture investment in 2016, the average venture deal size increased from 2015 to 2016 by 59 percent. (Excluding venture mega deals, the average venture deal size in 2015 was $9.4 million.)

The number of venture capital firms investing in start-up space dropped by about 33 percent in 2016, from 89 to 62 firms. (The reported number of venture capital firms investing in 2015 has increased since our previous report, as more companies have announced transactions.)

Of the 62 venture capital firms that invested in start-up space companies in 2016, 19 had previously reported investment in start-up space companies; 43 had not, and appear to be new additions to the start-up space ecosystem.

Stable Flow of Larger Seed Deals. Seed investments in start-up space ventures got bigger in 2016. Average deal size grew 75 percent from 2015 to 2016, from $9.1 million to $16 million. Note that Jeff Bezos’s estimated investment in Blue Origin had a significant effect on this average. Excluding the Blue Origin investment, the average seed deal was $0.5 million in 2015 and $1.6 million in 2016. The number of seed deals declined slightly, with 29 deals in 2015 and 26 deals in 2016.

Space Unicorns. One start-up space company, SpaceX, has joined the elite group of “unicorns,” private companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more. Three other start-up space companies may be on the path to unicorn valuations: Planet, Rocket Lab, and OneWeb.

Hundreds of Investors. This research has identified 439 investors in start-up space companies; all investors are not always disclosed, so the total number of investors is higher. Investors in space companies are primarily based in the United States, representing 63 percent of the total; California is home to nearly half of these investors. The non-U.S. investors are based in 32 countries. See Figure E-1. Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are well known “space billionaires”; of the 1,810 people on Forbes’ 2016 World’s Billionaires List, 25 have an affiliation with a space enterprise. This represents about 1 percent of billionaires.

Leading VCs Investing in Space. More than 200 venture capital (VC) firms have invested in space companies. A handful of VCs have repeatedly invested in common with others: notably, Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson Venture Capital, First Round Capital, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, RRE Ventures, Promus Ventures, and New Enterprise Associates. At least two of these venture capital firms have invested in Accion Systems, Planet, Rocket Lab, Terra Bella, SpaceX, Spire, The Climate Corporation, Mapbox, and Swift Navigation. See Figure E-2.

Tracking Future Performance. After two years of record-setting investment in start-up space companies, many services and products that attracted $4.2 billion of seed, venture capital, and private equity during this period are deploying or planning deployment in the near future. Investment in 2017 is likely to outpace 2016, both in terms of total magnitude and number of deals. The next few years have the potential to transform the start-up space ecosystem, and investors will be closely tracking the revenue dynamics and operational performance of maturing start-up space firms.

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  • Brainbit

    I don’t see NASA as a venture capitalist ? Or any other national space agency. Lets hope this lasts a few more years before shouts of unfair competition stops national investment in space. Any ideas when this will happen or if it will happen?
    I have a few dollars to invest in space who should I invest it in?

  • duheagle

    NASA buys a lot from the private sector but it does not act as a venture capitalist; it takes no equity position in companies it deals with for goods and services. Neither, for that matter, does DARPA.

    There are other national space agencies that do have commercial arms and derive revenue from the provision of space-related services, especially launch. India’s ISRO is one such. Russia’s ILS is, effectively, another. But ISRO isn’t private at all, it’s an agency of the Indian government. ISRO does not issue shares. ILS did, at one time, have shares. But all those shares were eventually acquired by Energia and Khrunichev, two companies that are now part of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

    The only way there would potentially be any complaints by US space companies about national space agencies that also act as service providers would be if said services were provided below cost. Both ISRO and ILS, for example are significant players in the satellite launch services business. But both are also operated with the explicit intention of making money, not giving it away in subsidies to foreigners. Both agencies provide launch services at rates appreciably lower than those of Ariane Group and ULA, but not lower than SpaceX or a number of up-and-coming smallsat launcher companies.

    Unfortunately for your “few dollars,” there are few, if any, space-related investment opportunities currently open to ordinary Americans. Pretty much all the New Space companies, regardless of size, are still privately held.