WASHINGTON — K2 Space, a two-year-old startup developing large spacecraft buses, will launch its first satellite this year as it attracts interest from government and commercial customers.

In an interview, Karan and Neel Kunjur, the cofounders of K2 Space, said their first spacecraft is scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-12 rideshare mission, planned for October.

The spacecraft will be a technology demonstration mission for many of the components the company has developed in-house for its Mega Class spacecraft bus. “The goal for the mission is to basically buy down a significant amount of the technical risk for the satellite,” Karan Kunjur, the chief executive, said.

That includes components like reaction wheels and computers as well as flight software. Many of those components were built at K2 Space because there was not a suitable supply chain for a spacecraft bus like Mega Class, designed to accommodate payloads of up to 1,000 kilograms and produce 20 kilowatts of power.

“We have to build that supply chain from scratch for a satellite of our class, in terms of power and size,” Neel Kunjur, the chief technology officer and brother of Karan, said. “It’s absolutely critical to get that hardware up in space early in our company’s trajectory.”

The company is focused on larger, but potentially less expensive, satellites that take advantage of the low-cost launch options like Falcon 9. Ten Mega Class spacecraft can launch on a single Falcon 9 or equivalent vehicle.

“We saw an opportunity to deliver at the price point and the speed of small constellation-class satellites, without sacrificing capability,” Karan said. “You have to go in the opposite direction of the market and go bigger, so that’s what we’ve done.”

K2 Space is attracting interest in that larger satellite bus from both companies and government agencies. The company was selected for a $3.8 million Tactical Funding Increase, or TACFI, award from the Space Development Agency and Space System Command’s Space Domain Awareness & Combat Power program executive office. Under the award, K2 Space will fly several Defense Department payloads on the first Mega Class spacecraft.

“When we started this, we saw a true dual-use technology here,” Karan said. He noted different elements of the Space Force are interested in the satellite bus for varying reasons: some like the high power, while others like the ability of the bus to operate in different orbits and be multi-manifested.

The company will work with the Space Force to identify the payloads to fly on the mission. “Because we have so much payload power and payload mass on the satellite bus, it makes it pretty easy to take multiples up, as well as the types of payloads that don’t quite fit on other conventional small satellites,” Neel said. The company may combine commercial payloads with the Defense Department payloads on that initial mission.

K2 Space has a separate cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, with the Air Force Research Lab. Under that agreement, the company will collaborate with the lab on cybersecurity topics such as “cyber-hardening” and encryption.

The company has signed its first commercial contract with an undisclosed customer that Karan described only as a “large telecommunications operator.” The contract would study development of a next-generation satellite constellation using K2 Space’s bus.

“One of the ways they were really excited about this is that we showed them what was possible when you relax the power constraints that have plagued previous constellation plans,” he said. “Plugging us in, with a bus that has 20 kilowatts of power at $15 million a satellite, helped basically close the business case for constellations like this.”

He declined to provide details about this system, including the number of satellites or their orbits. He did say, though, that K2 Space has seen a lot of interest in general about using its satellites in medium Earth orbit (MEO). “We’ve had people tell us that we’ve effectively built the best bus for MEO,” he said, based on its high power, low cost and radiation protection.

K2 Space Hall effect thruster
K2 Space recently tested a high-power Hall effect thruster intended for its Mega Class satellites. Credit: K2 Space

While K2 Space is preparing to perform in-space testing of some key technologies, others are still in development. They include a Hall effect thruster using krypton propellant that the company recently fired in the lab for the first time.

The thruster will use up to 20 kilowatts of power, or about four times higher power than any Hall effect thruster flown to date. Neel said the company designed the thruster to make maximum use of the power that the Mega Class bus will generate, an approach he said was simpler than trying to cluster several smaller thrusters.

“That just becomes an integration challenge or cost challenge and generally doesn’t package very well into a satellite that is trying to maximize performance,” he said of clustering thrusters. The thruster K2 Space has developed, he added, can operate at power levels as low as two kilowatts for stationkeeping and other maneuvers that require less power.

The large thruster would also fit into K2 Space’s long-term plans for larger spacecraft. “A 20-kilowatt satellite is the lowest power satellite we ever want,” he said. “Everything that we’re investing it now is directly with an eye towards that future.”

K2 Space, which raised $50 million in February, now has 50 people, with plans to grow to 90 employees by the end of the year and 130 by this time next year. The company signed a lease on a 180,000-square-foot mass production facility in Torrance, California, 12 times the size of its current facility, also in Torrance.

“We’re getting asked by customers how many can we produce in 2026, so we need to scale up to mass production,” Karan said. The company plans to move into the facility in the fourth quarter of this year and start scaling up production there by the third quarter of next year. The goal is to produce 50 satellites a year there.

The company also keeps planning for even bigger satellites in the future, notably a Giga Class optimized for Starship. “When we see repeatability, when we see Starlink stacks being taken up,” he said of Starship, “we will start the timeline for the bigger satellite.”

When Starship is flying and K2 Space starts work on the Giga Class satellite, Karan said he expects continued demand for the Mega Class, which could launch 50 at a time on Starship. “The Mega Class satellite is effectively going to be the small satellite of a post-Starship era.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...