LA Hard Tech Spotlight: Apex Space
Rapidly-available, commercial off-the-shelf satellite buses
When we published the LA Hard Tech 50 in November 2023, we loved highlighting the breadth of aerospace, defense, energy, and manufacturing startups building in southern California. There’s palpable enthusiasm in the community here, and we hope we captured a small piece of it.
Today, we’re going a level deeper. The companies we’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with in LA are more than just a one-liner. They have impactful and strategic visions and the teams are made up of talented and ambitious people. LA is lucky to have them, and we hope to show you why by featuring them here.
Introducing Apex Space
Apex is on a mission to change how space companies acquire satellite buses—the systems that enable satellites to perform their tasks in orbit. Unlike the previous model, where satellite companies design and build entire vehicles in-house or subcontract for bespoke designs, Apex sells complete off-the-shelf systems, including the structural frame, power, propulsion, and communications platforms.
Traditionally, bus manufacturing was a costly design and engineering process as companies built bespoke vehicles for orbit. Costs added up, and redundancies and contingencies were built in to derisk mission failure, further driving up costs. The results were lengthy build processes, often extending between 18 to 36 months.
Apex’s novel approach to satellite bus manufacturing could be revolutionary. By offering configurable, standard designs, Apex simplifies bus design and manufacturing, reducing production time and cost. Their goal is to decrease lead times to eight weeks, and today, their base configuration comes in at $3.25M, versus $5-10M for similar specs with a traditional provider.
This addresses critical bottlenecks in the rapidly growing space economy. With SpaceX offering regular, dependable launches, the customary delays and high costs associated with satellite production are the next major hurdles for both defense and commercial space operators. Apex's model of standardized, efficient, and reliable production helps overcome these challenges, offering a substantial cost and speed advantage for a variety of space-related applications.
With three different payload classes—Aries (100kg), Nova (230kg), and Comet (500kg)—that offer flexibility and readiness for various space missions, Apex is on track to meet the diverse and expanding demands of the new space economy.
They have the team and the money to do it. CEO and co-founder Ian Cinnamon sold his previous physical security company to Palantir, and CTO and co-founder Max Benassi is a former engineering director who scaled engines and spacecraft at SpaceX and Astra. With over $50M in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Shield Capital, XYZ, 8VC, and Toyota Ventures, and a new 46,000 sq. ft. production facility, Apex may become a key enabler in making space exploration and utilization more accessible.
Q&A with CEO, Ian Cinnamon
What had to be true so Apex could exist? Why now?
Satellite buses (the core set of components on a spacecraft) are not new—spacecraft have been around for decades. And since the beginning of the industry, expensive and infrequent launches resulted in the need for highly customized, bespoke satellite buses that catered to exquisite payloads.
However, in the last few years, the bottleneck in the industry has shifted from the launch sector to the spacecraft sector—specifically, satellite buses are often the largest pain point and cause of delay. Bespoke buses are great, but they can be expensive and slow to develop.
Today’s new reality means it is no longer optimal to build a perfect satellite bus for each payload— the cost of the delay outweighs the cost of additional mass or other optimizations. Therefore, we are at a unique time in history where the market is ready for rapidly-available, commercial off-the-shelf satellite buses.
How will the world change when you succeed?
Apex endeavors to be the largest supplier of spacecraft platforms in the galaxy—not just our world here on Earth. We believe in a future where access to space is ubiquitous, with new businesses and applications we can only dream of now. Imagine interplanetary life, asteroid mining, and so much more. The core set of fundamentals that need to come true for all of that is the platform layer, which Apex supplies.
What has been harder than you expected about building Apex?
Everything! I’m an optimistic person (I’d argue you need to be if you’re a founder). Every day brings on unexpected twists and turns, but the unrelenting desire to accomplish our mission perseveres above all else.
Why is LA the right place for you to build your business?
Los Angeles is the aerospace capital of the world. America’s defense industrial base laid a foundation here, which has given rise to amazing companies like SpaceX, Anduril, Relativity, Rocket Lab, and more. Personally, I grew up here in Los Angeles. I lived in the Bay Area for nearly a decade, but I always dreamed of moving back to my hometown — I’m overjoyed I’m able to do that thanks to Apex.
Behind every successful person, there are people who play or have played significant roles in making it happen. Who’s one person who has helped you get to this point? How have they helped?
Apex wouldn’t exist without my incredible cofounder and CTO, Max. Max spent his career scaling up the manufacturing of aerospace parts, and he has built the team at Apex to operate at unheard of speeds in the industry. He’s been the driving force that allows us to be the fastest ever company to go from clean sheet design to functional spacecraft in our size class— something that truly sets us apart!
Huge thanks to Ian and the Apex team for hosting us at your office/factory last year. Next week, look out for another company spotlight in aerospace!
Thanks for reading Always Add the Egg! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.