WASHINGTON — A startup has raised a seed round of funding to develop customized satellites with the assistance of artificial intelligence as an alternative to standardized buses.

Los Angeles-based Proteus Space announced Oct. 10 that it raised a $4.2 million seed round led by Moonshots Capital. Other investors participating in the round included Lavrock Ventures, The Veteran Fund, Mana Ventures, AIN Ventures, Capital Factory and Industrious Ventures.

Proteus will use the funding to advance its technology to enable rapid development of customized small satellites using AI, which the company argues can rapidly shorten the time to develop those satellites without requiring payloads to confirm to requirements of a more standardized satellite.

“You can’t win the new space race when it takes you three years to get to the starting line,” said David Kervin, chief executive of Proteus Space, in an interview. “The whole goal here is to end up in a place where somebody can come in and say, ‘I want a bus built,’ and six months later they have something ready to launch.”

Company executives say that they expect to be able to complete the design of a customized satellite in 30 days, versus the 18 months of traditional approaches. Machine learning can help speed up the iterative phases of satellite design, they argue, while other AI approaches like deep learning could eventually help identify design solutions more quickly than a human could.

“We’re really focused on rapidly designing new buses for new kinds of payloads to proliferate that technology as quickly as possible,” he said. “We’re talking about new kinds of buses with the same or less risk than a standard bus.”

The company has disclosed few details about the capabilities of the satellites they expect to produce beyond them being ESPA-class, weighing a couple hundred kilograms. The company expects to produce those satellites using some amount of additive manufacturing, said Terry Gdoutos, vice president of spacecraft systems, based on the designs that result, but will also incorporate traditional manufacturing techniques.

“You have to be very selective with when it makes sense to use that,” said Andrew Shapiro, chief technology officer of Proteus Space, of additive manufacturing. “We’re very careful about using it when it’s appropriate.”

The funding will enable the seven-person startup to hire more developers to create the end-to-end satellite design system and build out its manufacturing capability. An initial version of that system should be operational by next summer, Kervin said.

Proteus Space is targeting commercial and government customers who would prefer to design a satellite around their payload rather than modify their payload to conform to a standardized satellite. Kervin said the company has a pipeline of about $100 million of potential business from both startups and established space companies, as well as government agencies, although it has yet to announce any contracts.

That approach attracted investors like Moonshots Capital. “We were impressed by the Proteus Space technical concepts and mission focus,” said Craig Cummings, general partner at Moonshots Capital and member of the board of directors of Proteus Space, in a statement. “We are confident their extraordinary leadership, domain expertise, and determined resolve will carry the company to success.”

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...