Render of single Arkisys Port module in low-Earth orbit. Credit: Arkisys

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Arkisys is inviting U.S. companies with Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer funding to test payloads or subsystems in low Earth orbit on the Port, the orbital outpost the Southern California startup is developing.

Through a program called Embark, Arkisys is offering to fly payloads to the Port, scheduled to launch in 2024, for $150,000.

“As you can imagine we will not be making any money at that price point,” David Barnhart, Arkisys CEO and co-founder, told SpaceNews.

Instead, Arkisys is following a model popular in the tech sector of offering infrastructure as a service. With a low introductory price, companies like Amazon Web Services bring customers onboard. When businesses expand and more services are needed, the tech companies benefit.

Similarly, Embark customers will have access to additional services and opportunities to collaborate in orbit.

“This infrastructure needs to be utilized in order to scale,” said Dan Lopez, Arkisys chief business officer. “Without scale, there’s no market. Without a market, there is no customer.”

Arkisys executives intend to serve the innovators who typically struggle to send their technology to orbit.

For years, people have lamented the valley of death for space technology. It’s relatively easy for companies to win small SBIR or STTR phase 1 awards from U.S. government agencies to show the technical merit or feasibility of an idea. It’s harder, but not extremely difficult, to win SBIR phase 2 funds to continue the research and development. Very few companies make it to SBIR phase 3, where the technology transitions into a government program or toward a commercial product or service.

“What’s fascinating is that in [SBIR or STTR] phase two, many companies build hardware and never get a chance to see its maturity or continue the innovation because they never get a chance to fly,” Barnhart said. “We would love to accelerate that innovation.”

While many commercial space platforms or space stations are being developed, none are operating yet.

Arkisys is one of three companies that won funding in 2020 from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit to study small, uncrewed space stations in low Earth orbit. Sierra Space and NanoRacks also received awards

“Our belief is that there’s a huge untapped set of innovative ideas that are sort of left on the floor with the current [SBIR and STTR] process,” Barnhart said. “It makes the most sense to go after that.”

In the future, Arkisys plans to extend the Embark program to companies outside the United States.

Arkisys initially announced the Embark program in 2021. Since then, the company has refined the concept based on feedback from potential customers.

Companies can sign up for the Embark program on the Arkisys website.

“Then, we contact you to start the onboarding process,” Barnhart said. “We want to make sure that we know what you’re going to fly and when you want to fly.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...