Dawn Aerospace raises $20 million for propulsion and spaceplane work

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SAN FRANCISCO – Dawn Aerospace has raised $20 million to expand its line of in-space propulsion products and to extend spaceplane development.

New Zealand’s Icehouse Ventures led the investment round for Dawn, a space transportation company based in New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States. GD1 and Movac, investors also based in New Zealand, supported the round.

The funding will support Dawn’s effort to develop a new orbital spaceplane and to provide thrusters for satellites traveling in geostationary and lunar orbit, Stefan Powell, Dawn co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.

Dawn has raised $21.2 million since the company was established in Christchurch in 2017. The latest investment raises Dawn’s valuation to 170 million New Zealand dollars ($108.5 million), according to the Dec. 6 news release.

The company’s work also has been funded by revenue from its satellite propulsion business and grants from government agencies, including the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and the European Space Agency.

“Thousands of space tech companies have raised billions of dollars, yet very few have actually been to space or generated revenue,” Icehouse Ventures CEO Robbie Paul said in a statement. “Dawn’s technical and commercial traction is a testament to the founders and their amazing team.”

Dawn places “strategic importance on getting to customer revenue – with hardware on orbit,” James Powell, Dawn co-founder and chief financial officer, said in a statement. “In the space startup world, most don’t get anything flying without hundreds of millions in investment. Prior to this round, Dawn had more money come from sales than venture capital.”

In 2022, Dawn closed deals valued at $22 million. Additional deals with a potential value of $150 million are being negotiated with customers, Powell said. As a result, “it won’t be long until propulsion sales resume bringing in more cash than VC,” he added.

Dawn’s most high-profile project is the Dawn Mk-II Aurora, a rocket-powered spaceplane demonstrator. In testing to date, Dawn has flown Mk-II with jet engines. Rocket-powered flight tests are scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2023.

On the satellite propulsion side, 33 Dawn thruster have flown on eight satellites. Another 12 satellites are scheduled to launch with Dawn thrusters by the end of the year.

“Our understanding is that at least one, if not multiple, customers are flying Dawn thrusters on every scheduled” SpaceX Transporter rideshare mission, Catherine Moreau Hammond, Dawn sales and marketing manager, told SpaceNews.