Starfish Launches Mission to Clean Up Space with $14M Funding Boost

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Starfish Space, a startup founded in 2019 by former Blue Origin and NASA engineers, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Munich Re’s venture capital arm.

The company plans to use the funds to develop its all-electric servicing spacecraft, Otter, which is slightly bigger than a mini-fridge. With the new investment, Starfish has raised more than $21 million.

This summer, Starfish plans to test its technology by launching a microwave-sized demonstrator that will attempt to dock with another test spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), following an Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) from small rocket developer Launcher. The spacecraft will use electric propulsion and an electrostatic capture mechanism to rejoin the space tug.

Starfish sees increasing demand for life extension services in the Geostationary Orbit (GEO) market. Once docked, the Otter will extend the lifetime of a GEO satellite by helping to keep it in its orbital slot for several additional years. Northrop Grumman is also targeting this market with much larger spacecraft currently attached to two Intelsat satellites.

The startup’s planned LEO debris removal service would work in a similar way. Once docked, the Otter would pull the satellite down close enough to the Earth to quickly de-orbit from there. The Otter would then detach from the client satellite and boost itself back up to LEO to conduct further servicing missions.

“The Otter as a platform is being designed to perform both missions with limited modifications, although each Otter vehicle would focus on serving customers in either GEO or LEO,” said Starfish strategy and operations lead Ari Juster.

Starfish aims to expand its workforce by 10-15 employees before the end of this year, hiring experts across a range of software, hardware, and business development disciplines. Additionally, the startup plans to launch its first commercial Otter vehicles in the coming years to meet the growing demand from customers.

Munich Re Ventures, the venture capital arm of insurance giant Munich Re, invested in the funding round, as did Toyota Ventures and existing investors PSL Ventures, NFX, and MaC VC. Munich Re Ventures also invested in Orbit Fab, a company that raised €5.5m ($5.8m) last year and is developing space traffic management software to help satellite operators save fuel.

Stephanie Deml, head of aviation and space at Munich Re, said, “In-orbit servicing such as active debris removal and life extension of satellites will play a key role in enabling a sustainable infrastructure in space. We are keen to contribute to the success of these missions by developing bespoke risk transfer solutions.”

Startups that offer solutions for removing orbital debris have been a bright spot for early-stage space investments this year, despite challenging macroeconomic conditions. Astroscale, a Japanese startup that plans to offer in-orbit servicing, raised $76m in a Series G funding round in February, bringing its total raised to date for its in-orbit servicing plans to more than $376m. Swiss debris-removal startup ClearSpace also raised around $29m in a Series A round, bringing its total to about $140m.