Startup raises $10 million to develop ‘return vehicle’ for space cargo

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The U.S. military could store supplies in orbit and use Inversion's capsule to deliver them anywhere in the world. 

WASHINGTON — Inversion, a space startup based in Los Angeles, announced Nov. 16 it has raised $10 million in seed funding to develop a reentry capsule to bring cargo from space back to Earth. 

The company was founded in January by Justin Fiaschetti, a former SpaceX and Relativity Space propulsion engineer, and Austin Briggs, formerly a propulsion engineer at ABL Space Systems. 

Inversion designed a reusable capsule to conduct round trips to space, for example, to deliver cargo to space stations and bring stuff back.

The seed funding round was led by Spark Capital with participation from Y Combinator, Embedded Ventures, Funders Club, Liquid 2 Ventures, and angel investors including Kyle Vogt of Cruise and David Hodge.

“Inversion is one of the very first to address the problem of the lack of return options in the space industry,” said Santo Politi, co-founder and general partner of Spark Capital.

Fiaschetti said Inversion drew interest from investors after he and Briggs pitched their invention at the Y Combinator startup accelerator demo day this summer. 

The company will try to fill an emerging need in the space industry for a “high cadence and affordable capability” to deliver cargo to space and bring supplies back, Fiaschetti told SpaceNews.

The space cargo vehicles that exist today were designed around NASA’s requirements, he said. But as space become more commercialized, there is likely to be a demand for more flexible options.

Potential customers for the company’s capsule would be both commercial and government, he said. The U.S. military, for example, could store supplies in orbit and use the capsule to deliver them anywhere in the world. 

Another application would be to resupply future commercial space stations. “The current model is up and down once every three or four months. But as we start to move to a more commercialized industry, you need that high cadence of once a week,” Fiaschetti said. 

The capsule also could serve as a stand-alone platform for conducting space missions. “Once our capsule is in orbit, it is able to maneuver itself either to a space station, or can deploy solar panels and stay in orbit as a free flyer,” he said. In that mode, it could host research experiments on board and then return them back to Earth or to a space station. 

Further out into the future, Fiaschetti said, the capsule could be used to return materials from the moon or asteroids if companies start mining space resources. 

Inversion co-founders Justin Fiaschetti (left) and Austin Briggs

At its 5,000 square-foot factory in Los Angeles, the company built a one-foot diameter capsule that serves as a tech demonstrator to test out the systems before building a larger four-foot diameter capsule.

The small capsule “has all the same technology as the four-foot diameter capsule, but allows us to iterate and develop it much much quicker,” said Fiaschetti. The $10 million in seed funding will help accelerate development so the demonstrator can be launched in 2023, he added. The plan is to launch the larger capsule in 2025.

The capsules are designed to be rocket agnostic so they can launch on any commercial vehicle. Inversion recently hot fired an internally-developed green propellant rocket engine to power the capsule and also enable it to de-orbit, re-enter the atmosphere and land back on Earth under a parachute.

Like many startups, Inversion was launched in a garage. Fiaschetti said he and Briggs, who designed rocket engines at Boston University, spent five months building a rocket engine using woodworking tools. “That helped us build momentum and raise capital.”