Vector-R rocket
A full-sized "pathfinder" of Vector Space Systems' Vector-R rocket undergoing tests in September in Tucson, Arizona. Credit: Vector Space Systems

WASHINGTON — Vector Space Systems said Nov. 18 that it has raised $1.25 million in funding to support development of its small launch vehicle, with a goal of a first launch by the end of next year.

The seed investment into the Tucson, Arizona-based company is led by Space Angels Network, a group of individual angel investors that make early-stage investments in space companies. While Space Angels Network has invested in a number of space startups, including Astrobotic Technology, Planetary Resources, and World View Enterprises, this is its first investment in a launch company.

“We see endless opportunity in Vector’s vision to build affordable and reliable launch vehicles for microsatellites and are committed to working with them to make that vision a reality,” Chad Anderson, chief executive of Space Angels Network, said in a statement.

The new round brings the total raised by the company to $2.25 million. The company also has Small Business Innovation Research contracts from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency valued at an additional $2.5 million to work on vehicle technologies.

“We are honored by the continued support of our existing angel investors and by this new infusion of capital from Space Angels Network,” Jim Cantrell, chief executive and co-founder of Vector Space, said in a statement. “This investment, by experienced space industry investors, helps to further validate the market and demand for a dedicated micro satellite launch vehicle.”

Cantrell said Vector Space plans to follow up this seed investment with a larger Series A round it expects to close in early 2017. The company declined to say how large the Series A round would be, but a company spokesperson said it would be enough to fund the company through the first launch of its Vector-R rocket, planned before the end of 2017.

The Vector-R is designed to place payloads weighing up to 60 kilograms into low Earth orbit. It’s one of a number of vehicles under development to serve a growing small satellite market that currently relies primarily on launches as secondary payloads on larger vehicles.

“Rideshare works. It’s helped the industry grow, so it’s not a bad thing,” Cantrell said during a panel Nov. 16 at the Spacecom conference in Houston. “But what we’re starting to see as the numbers of small satellites proliferate is a demand for tailored services.”

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...