Posted June 22, 2023

Last year, 180 launches successfully reached orbit—a record year for space. SpaceX led the way with 61 launches, and the People’s Republic of China definitively replaced Russia as the world’s No. 2 space power. Without question, we have entered a new space race that is moving faster than many anticipated it could. While the United States government continues to lead in satellite launches, the CCP is quickly gaining ground, a narrowing delta that highlights the growing concern in defense circles about the fragility of America’s defense industrial base. 

These concerns are almost always related to the pace of manufacturing—and how quickly companies can access critical parts. Satellite buses, the physical structure of a spacecraft that provides power, communication, and movement, are often a bottleneck for those seeking to launch their payloads. Historical players building customized buses can take years to ship the finished product. For our 21st century space race, this is not good enough. 

Apex was launched last year to shrink bus manufacturing timelines down to months and, eventually, weeks. Apex’s flagship Aries platform, a 100-kilogram bus capable of supporting up to 100 kilograms of payload mass, is being manufactured for scale, targeting both commercial and defense companies where speed is critical. And at less than a year old, Apex is already proving they can move quickly: Their first mission, “Call to Adventure,” is scheduled for launch on SpaceX’s Transporter 10 in Q1 2024. It will support three payloads running a mix of missions, including proximity operations, edge computation, and communications.

We led the seed round in Apex last summer with the belief that both commercial companies and the defense industrial base need space manufacturers that could address component bottlenecks and move faster than once thought possible. After witnessing the pace and demand for their product, we’re proud to now co-lead Apex’s Series A less than a year later.

It’s no surprise that cofounders Ian Cinnamon and Max Benassi are building quickly; their backgrounds in software, manufacturing, and prior work in dual-use companies led them to this important mission. 

We first met Ian when he was building his second startup, Synapse, a dual-use AI company that he sold to Palantir in 2020. He was working in American Dynamism before it had a name, determined to build important technology for national security when many told him not to bother. Max, too, began his career aligned with the American Dynamism mission, first at SpaceX and then as Director of Engineering at Astra.

At a16z, we look for founders who not only care about speed and the race to launch, but also have a true heart for the mission that shows up throughout their lives. Ian and Max exemplify the American Dynamism ethos of tackling hard problems in service of the national interest, both throughout their past careers, and now as cofounders of Apex. We’re humbled to back them on this important journey to build the spacecraft mass-manufacturing company of the future.


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