CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, will invest up to $500,000 in NanoRacks LLC, an in-space commercial services provider that next month will fly its first cubesat launcher to the international space station.
The $500,000 represents the final piece of a $3.1 million round of Series A investment in XO Markets, the holding company for Houston-based NanoRacks.
Previously, XO Markets raised $2.6 million from outside investors including Near Earth LLC, a Connecticut-based financial services firm that specializes in financing for satellite and space technologies.
Space Florida’s board of directors gave chief executive Frank DiBello a green light to proceed with negotiations for the $500,000 investment during its Oct. 30 meeting in Miami. The company was not identified by name during the meeting, but NanoRacks Managing Director Jeffrey Manber later confirmed the financing was for his firm.
DiBello told SpaceNews the direct investment in a company was not Space Florida’s first, nor its largest. Previous investments include $1 million to U.K.-based Cella Energy, a hydrogen storage developer, for a facility near the Kennedy Space Center. More typically, Space Florida makes loans that can be converted into equity at a later date.
“We’re a very flexible financing agency,” DiBello said. “We’re not venture capitalists, but we will help a company.”
Florida’s investment in NanoRacks will cover some of the costs of two pieces of hardware to be flown to the space station. The first is a small-satellite launcher that is slated to fly to the station in December aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp. Cygnus cargo ship.
The launcher will be operated from Japan’s Kibo module, which includes a small airlock, robotic arm and external platform. The Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) already operates a cubesat launch service aboard the station, similar to what NanoRacks intends to provide on a commercial basis.
Cubesats are standardized, 10-centimeter sided cubes weighing about 1.2 kilograms. Designed by California Polytechnic State University and introduced in 1999, cubesats are relatively inexpensive miniature spacecraft that produce their own power and transit signals. Individual cubesats can be configured to fly together.
More than 30 cubesats are scheduled to be flown inside NanoRacks’ launcher and deployed from the station early next year, Manber said.
“This is really a historic new relationship between the private sector and the space agency. We saw the demand for increased small satellite deployment — and we didn’t ask NASA for money — and we designed and have now manufactured six cubesat deployers to supplement the Japanese dispensers,” Manber said.
NanoRacks’ second piece of space station equipment will be an external platform that will be used to mount sensors, materials and experiments outside the orbital outpost.
“We have very strong interest in that from the U.S. government and commercial organizations,” Manber said.
The platform is being built by Astrium North America, an offshoot of EADS, the Netherlands-based European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. It is slated to fly on Space Exploration Technologies’ fifth Dragon cargo run to the station, targeted for 2014.
The cubesat launcher cost about $700,000 and the external platform about $10 million, Manber said.
“We’re self-investing and we have millions of dollars at stake on space station utilization,” Manber said. “Florida shares our vision and we’re delighted if they would come in and be a partner.”
Space Florida’s investment will give it about a 3 percent ownership stake in NanoRacks’ parent company, Manber said.