Space Kinetic’s Albuquerque manufacturing facility. The aerospace startup is in the process of building out a prototype of its electromagnetic propulsion system at the facility and has brought on a few new staff to help with that process.
New Mexico has become the “center of gravity” for an aerospace startup launched out of California’s Bay Area early last year, its chief strategy officer told Albuquerque Business First. A connection to a national laboratory, resources in the state and a fast-growing aerospace industry all helped propel the startup to the Land of Enchantment.
In February 2022, while both graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, Ryan Sullivan and Scott Ziegler founded Space Kinetic, a startup they hope can address a problem in the current aerospace economy.
The company is building an electromechanical system to move assets through space without firing a thruster or directly using consumable fuel. Instead of using chemical propulsion to move resources from one point to another while orbiting Earth, Space Kinetic’s system uses a rotary mechanism to electromechanically accelerate and then deploy payloads on new trajectories.
It raised $550,000 in a pre-seed financing round — typically the earliest stage of venture funding for startups — led by 1517 Fund, a Colorado-based deep-tech focused VC firm, earlier this year.
“Right now, if you look at the space ecosystem, it’s underperforming,” Sullivan, Space Kinetic’s chief strategy officer, told Business First. “One of the reasons for that is because of the way that we currently think about space logistics and mobility.”
Space Kinetic is currently building the third prototype of its “Longbow” platform, and to do that, it chose a facility in Albuquerque to handle engineering and manufacturing. The startup moved into the facility — which Sullivan said is about a five-minute drive from Kirtland Air Force Base — in April of this year.
Three full-time employees are working for Space Kinetic in Albuquerque, and the startup wants to grow that number over the next six months. Ziegler, Space Kinetic’s CEO, said hiring could come from New Mexico.
“From our perspective, as we continue to grow and hire folks, we want to try and bring people in that are already present in New Mexico,” Ziegler said during an aerospace panel hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory on July 17. “We’ve already had conversations of having people relocate, like we’re doing with an electrical engineer who drove from Virginia over the weekend to actually start helping us build in person.”
Ziegler’s connection to the northern New Mexico laboratory is one factor that drew Space Kinetic to build its physical, centralized workforce in New Mexico. He was recently selected as a Lab Embedded Entrepreneur Program (LEEP) fellow. It’s a partnership program between the lab and investors with seed capital, mentors at both Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories and research and expertise at the two national labs.
The startup also has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, with Los Alamos National Laboratory to further the development of its electromagnetic propulsion technology. Besides the Los Alamos connection, both Sullivan and Zielger pointed to other public and private resources in the state. Sullivan referenced groups like the recently renamed NewSpace Nexus and Q Station, the Air Force Research Laboratory-backed coworking and resource space, as examples of how organizations in the state have looked to boost early-stage aerospace startups like Space Kinetic.
Sullivan added Space Kinetic has economic incentives like New Mexico’s Local Economic Development Act and Job Training Incentive Program on its radar to scale its workforce and physical footprint in the state, as well, but he didn’t go into detail about the startup’s specific funding or workforce training needs.
However, one thing he did cite regarding New Mexico is the potential to play a part in the state’s burgeoning aerospace economy.
“We’re uniquely positioned to both benefit and help shape the future of space tech in New Mexico,” Sullivan said. “That is really exciting for us as a startup.”
Space Kinetic recently earned a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract with the U.S. Department of the Air Force for building simulations that show how its space mobility tech can be across different dual-use applications. That contract represented an “important inflection point” for the startup, Sullivan said; it’s set to apply for a Phase II SBIR contract this fall.