Oxford Space Systems raises $8.9 million for spacecraft component business

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WASHINGTON —  Oxford Space Systems, a British startup that hopes to compete with space industry giants Harris Corp. and Northrop Grumman in the satellite component business, has raised 6.7 million British pounds ($8.9 million) from investors.

Longwall Ventures, a U.K.-based early stage investor, led the round, with IQ Capital, Foresight Williams, OTIF, Midven and Wren Capital participating.

Since forming in 2013, Oxford Space Systems has raised a total of 10 million pounds to build spacecraft antennas, deployable booms and other structures it says are lighter and simpler than those of other suppliers.

On June 14, Oxford Space Systems moved into its new Harwell Space Cluster headquarters, gaining access to an on-campus clean room for flight hardware assembly.

Mike Lawton, CEO and founder of Oxford Space Systems, told SpaceNews his company is unaffected by the struggles other component suppliers are facing with the slowdown in orders of commercial geostationary spacecraft.

“We are actually finding it quite hard to keep up with demand,” he said, describing early customers as operators of low Earth orbit spacecraft. “We have a huge amount of interest predominately coming from the U.S. and across Europe, so we don’t see any slow down.”

Oxford Space Systems has tested a 4-meter deployable antenna, and says it can scale that product up to 14 meters in diameter.

“That’s ultimately where we are going,” Lawton said.

The company’s first products target satellites in the 50- to 150-kilogram range, he said, with the first antennas being designed for synthetic aperture radar. Those antennas are up to five meters in size, he said.

Longer term, Oxford Space Systems intends to move into production of larger antennas that would support direct-to-home television broadcasts and ultra-high-frequency military communications from multi-ton geostationary spacecraft.

Lawton said he sees Harris Corp. and Northrop Grumman as his biggest competitors in spacecraft antennas. Both those companies provide large unfurlable antennas for geostationary satellites. Harris built the antennas for Inmarsat’s first four Global Xpress satellites from Boeing; Northrop Grumman is building the unfurlable reflectors for the two Inmarsat-6 satellites Airbus is building.

Spacecraft booms and other structures have a wider supplier base that Oxford Space Systems competes within, he said.

What differentiates Oxford Space Systems, according to Lawton, is the type of flexible composite materials the company uses and a reversal of common hardware development practices. Lawton said Oxford Space Systems will prototype first, then backfill with mission analysis rather than engage in numerous design reviews ahead of hardware development.

Oxford Space Systems also builds its products “ITAR-free,” avoiding U.S.-supplied components that face export restrictions under International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Oxford Space has a boom on ALsat-Nano, a joint cubesat project of the U.K. and Algerian space agencies that launched in 2016, and another on the University of Surrey RemoveDebris mission awaiting deployment from the International Space Station in the coming weeks.

The company’s first antenna launches in 2020 on the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Wideband Ionospheric Sounder CubeSat Experiment that Thales Alenia Space is building.

Oxford Space Systems employs 29 people, Lawton said, and has five open positions. The company hopes to raise another 1.3 million pounds by September to close its Series A financing round.