TAMPA, Fla. — Denver-based startup Atomos Space announced Jan. 12 it has raised the $5 million it had first sought in 2020 to develop its space-tug business, following an investment from early-stage investor Cantos Ventures.

Cantos joined an undisclosed aerospace investor in the funding round, which the startup said paves the way for launching its first two spacecraft in 2023.

Quark, a reusable orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) that Atomos Space has said will be able to tow tens of customers to their orbital destinations over the tug’s five-year lifetime, was originally planned to launch in 2021.

According to Atomos Space, the company has won and executed over $2 million in contracts with NASA, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force to support its OTV plans.

Atomos Space intends to set its business apart from others in an emerging market for OTVs by using nuclear-powered tugs for its in-space transportation services.

“Current propulsion technologies are evolutionary dead ends and can’t scale into the future space economy,” Atomos Space CEO and co-founder Vanessa Clark said in the funding announcement. 

However, Atomos Space co-founder and chief operating officer William Kowalski said its first two spacecraft, and another it expects to launch in late 2024, will use solar-powered systems. 

“Our nuclear vehicle (Neutron) will be later 2020s,” Kowalski told SpaceNews via email.

“Most of our government contract work has focused on space nuclear applications, but most of our private funding is focused on Mission 1 [in 2023] and rendezvous technologies.”

Using nuclear power in space faces regulatory, technical and cost challenges.

The startup said in an early 2021 blog post that it had planned to raise $5 million in spring 2020 to develop its technology — before being derailed by the pandemic.

In the blog post, the venture said it was funded through 2021 without additional capital.

San Francisco-based Cantos Ventures was founded in 2016 and says it manages $55 million across multiple funds.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...