Axiom Space's new Houston Spaceport facility is now open. Photo courtesy of Houston Airports

The Houston Spaceport has officially celebrated the opening of another facility from a fast-growing space tech company.

Axiom Space has opened its new Assembly Integration and Test Building, which will be the new headquarters for the Houston-based aerospace company at a new 22-acre campus at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport in Southeast Houston. The building will include employee offices, facilities for astronaut training and mission control, testing labs and a high bay production facility to house Axiom Space Station modules currently under construction.

Axiom Space partnered with Jacobs, Turner Construction Company, Savills, and Griffin Partners to expand the company’s headquarters with the Houston spaceport building, which is the tenth spaceport in the nation.

For the first time in Houston’s history, the Space City is now home to the development of human-rated spacecraft with the Axiom Stations modules. Houston Spaceport has laboratory office space like technology incubator space and large-scale hardware production facilities, and is the world’s first urban commercial spaceport.

“These are historically exciting times for us all,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “As the city that helped put men on the moon, Houston continues to lead the way in technology and innovation. Axiom Space has set itself apart from others in the private space industry. Our city – Space City — is leading this second space race. And the work being done in our city will return humanity to the moon in a sustainable way.”

Axiom operates end-to-end missions to the International Space Station. They are also developing its successor, Axiom Station, and building next-generation spacesuits for the moon, low-Earth orbit, and other missions. The company describes itself as “the leading provider of human spaceflight services and developer of human-rated space infrastructure.”

Axiom joins Collins Aerospace and Intuitive Machines as the three tenants of the Houston Spaceport, which is an FAA-licensed, urban commercial spaceport for the aerospace community. Intuitive Machines supports NASA’s $93 billion Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and eventually send humans to Mars.

“Today’s celebration is the culmination of teamwork and tenacity, and it underscores a year of historic milestones for Houston Airports,” Mario Diaz, director of Aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “It’s not enough that we operate world-class airports, Houston Airports must also endeavor to progress humanity’s reach out into space. Axiom space solidifies this unique urban center for collaboration and ideation. A place where the brightest minds in the world work closely together to lead us beyond the next frontier of space exploration.”

The Houston Spaceport Development Corp. received $5 million from funds administered by the Governor's Office of Economic Development and Tourism. Axiom Space is valued at $1 billion as of earlier this year, according to Bloomberg. Axiom joins Intuitive Machines, which opened its new Houston Spaceport headquarters earlier this year.

Last week, Axiom Space cut the ribbon on the new facility. Photo courtesy of Houston Airports

Here's what Houston tech and startup news trended this year on InnovationMap in space tech. Image via Getty Images

Top Space City news of 2023: New Houston unicorn, an IPO, spaceport development, and more

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from a space tech company reaching unicorn status to another completing its IPO. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility. Continue reading the full story from May.

Houston space tech startup closes deal to IPO

Intuitive Machines will be listed on Nasdaq beginning February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It's official. This Houston company is live in the public market.

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Continue reading the full story from February.

Houston to host 6 Italian aerospace companies with new program

Six Italian companies are coming to the Space City to accelerate their businesses thanks to a new program. Photo via nasa.gov

It's an Italian invasion in Houston — and it's happening in the name of accelerating innovation within aerospace.

For the first time, Italy has announced an international aerospace-focused program in the United States. The Italian Trade Agency and Italian Space Agency will partner with Space Foundation to launch Space It Up, an initiative that will accelerate six companies in Houston.

“The launch of Space It Up marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to nurturing innovation and facilitating global partnerships," Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian Trade Commissioner of Houston, says in a news release. "This program serves as a testament to the collaborative spirit that defines the aerospace industry. It represents the convergence of Italian ingenuity and Houston's esteemed legacy in space exploration, setting the stage for unprecedented advancements." Continue reading the full story from August.

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade. Continue reading the full story from August.

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.” Continue reading the full story from August.

Tim Craine is co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Houston innovator discusses the power of a pivot and the future of the Space City

houston innovators podcast episode 208

It might surprise many to learn that publicly traded, NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which has emerged as a commercial leader within lunar access technology development, had several pivots before finding its niche within space innovation.

In fact, as Co-Founder and CTO Tim Crain explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, the company was founded as a space-focused think tank. Crain, along with his co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian, came together in 2013 to start Intuitive Machines, which recently moved into a $40 million headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

"At the time, our thought was, 'let's take the best of human space flight engineering processes, disciplines, and know how, and look at how we might commercially deploy that for biomedical, energy, big data, and aerospace,'" Crain says on the show. "We wanted to look at how we use great engineering for some of the hard problems outside of NASA's aerospace sphere."

Crain describes the early years of IM as important to the company because the founders learned how to run a business and meet customers' needs and expectations — things he had little experience from his previous roles as a civil servant at NASA. But Crain says they never fell in love with any of the early technologies and ideas they developed — from long-range drones to precision drilling technologies.

Then, everyone's eyes were on returning to the moon. With this new vision, NASA created the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. As Crain explains, this evolution involved looking to hire companies to deliver scientific and developmental payloads to the moon. IM won three of the NASA contracts so far, representing three missions for NASA.

"We dipped our toe in the 'let's develop the moon' river and promptly got pulled all the way in," Crain says. "We left our think tank, broad, multi-sector efforts behind, and really pivoted at that point to focus entirely on NASA's CLPS needs. ... The timing really could not have been any better."

Later this month, Crain will discuss IM's journey in detail for a NASA Tech Talk at the Ion. If you're interested in learning more after listening to the podcast, click here to sign up for the free October 26 event.

With Crain's decades in the space industry, he's observed a resurgence lately, and that has directly impacted Houston's role in the industry.

"The future of Space City is really just beginning to move into a time of producing the hardware here and having Houstonians make the spacecraft, space systems, and the technologies that we use to explore and develop the solar system," Crain says on the show.

Prada is collaborating with Houston-based aerospace company Axiom Space on the design of spacesuits for NASA’s Artemis III mission to the moon. Photo via axiomspace.com

Houston company collaborates with major fashion designer for spacesuit project

astronaut couture

Courtesy of the Prada luxury brand, NASA astronauts are getting an infusion of fashion.

Prada is collaborating with Houston-based aerospace company Axiom Space on the design of spacesuits for NASA’s Artemis III mission to the moon. Astronauts haven’t yet been chosen for the mission, which is set for 2025.

“Prada’s technical expertise with raw materials, manufacturing techniques, and innovative design concepts will bring advanced technologies instrumental in ensuring not only the comfort of astronauts on the lunar surface, but also the much-needed human factors considerations absent from legacy spacesuits,” says Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom Space.

The spacesuit, called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), is geared toward improving astronauts’ flexibility, boosting protection against harsh conditions, and supplying tools for exploration and scientific activities.

“Our decades of experimentation, cutting-edge technology, and design know-how – which started back in the ’90s with Luna Rossa challenging for the America’s Cup – will now be applied to the design of a spacesuit for the Artemis era. It is a true celebration of the power of human creativity and innovation to advance civilization,” says Lorenzo Bertelli, marketing director of the Prada brand.

NASA has enlisted Axiom and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace to outfit astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, A-P-T Research, Arrow Science and Technology, David Clark Co., and Paragon Space Development.

Collins maintains a sizable presence at the Houston Spaceport.

In July, Axiom secured a NASA task order potentially worth $147 million to modify the Artemis III spacesuit for astronauts heading to the International Space Station. This follows a $228 million NASA task order awarded to Axiom in 2022 for development of the Artemis III spacesuit.

The task orders are part of Axiom’s $1.26 billion spacesuit contract with NASA. All told, NASA has earmarked as much as $3.5 billion for new spacesuits.

Intuitive Machines has officially moved into its new HQ. Photo courtesy of Intuitive Machines

Space tech startup opens new $40M HQ at Houston Spaceport

ready for takeoff

Houston aerospace company Intuitive Machines has moved into its new $40 million headquarters at the Houston Spaceport.

Intuitive Machines’ new home supports NASA’s $93 billion Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and eventually send humans to Mars. Eighteen astronauts are assigned to the program. Houston’s Johnson Space Center is playing a key role in Artemis.

The company’s 105,572-square-foot Lunar Production and Operations Center serves as the hub for its lunar program, including the manufacturing of lunar landers and spacecraft. The facility features manufacturing and production spaces, 3D printing areas, machine shops, R&D labs, cleanrooms, and spacecraft assembly areas, along with offices, meeting rooms, and conference rooms.

“Unique to the facility are mission control rooms to track and manage lunar missions, and a propulsion test facility to assess lunar lander engine capabilities,” Intuitive Machines says in a news release.

The propulsion test facility consists of a 3,800-square-foot reinforced concrete chamber surrounded by a 25-foot-high perimeter wall that encloses an additional 6,500-square-foot yard.

Intuitive Machines says its first mission lunar lander, Nova-C, will soon be shipped from its new facility ahead of the lander’s upcoming launch. The mission to deliver NASA and commercial payloads to the moon’s south pole marks the first U.S. attempt of a soft lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The moon “is no longer a distant dream; it’s a destination within our grasp, and this facility is our lunar gateway — a national asset,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Construction on the site began in June 2021, with the now-completed facility ready to support each of Intuitive Machines’ three NASA-awarded missions.

Intuitive Machines joins Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace as the third anchor tenant at the Houston Spaceport.

“Houston has always been a city that reaches for the stars, and with Intuitive Machines operating at the Houston Spaceport, our city is poised to shine even brighter in the cosmos,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In August, the publicly traded company announced it received a $20 million equity investment from an unidentified institutional investor.

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

cleared for takeoff

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility.

The facility will feature:

  • A 22,000-square-foot aircraft hangar
  • 20,000 square feet of aircraft apron
  • 7,200 square feet of office and training space
  • A 12,000-gallon, above-ground aviation fuel tank
  • Vehicle parking

Thanks to NASA and United Airlines, among other employers, Houston is home to more than 500 aviation and aerospace companies. Over 23,000 people in the Houston area work in the aviation and aerospace sector.

“The air transportation industry in Houston and across the United States is growing and provides career opportunities for those with the skills needed to succeed,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release.

Mario Diaz, director of aviation for Houston’s airports, says the new training center will “invest in and inspire the next generation of aviation professionals.”

“The facility at Ellington Airport continues the illustrious story of Houston’s aeronautical history. … Soon, students at Texas Southern University will apply the crucial lessons learned at Ellington Airport to revolutionize the aviation industry,” says Diaz.

Terence Fontaine, executive director of aviation at TSU, says the facility will house his program’s eight aircraft. It also will provide “an enhanced environment for student learning opportunities as we work to address our nation’s critical aviation needs,” says Fontaine.

TSU’s College of Science, Engineering & Technology offers a bachelor’s degree in aviation science management for students pursuing careers at airports, airlines, air traffic control centers, and other employers in the aviation sector. More than 100 students are enrolled in the program.

In January, United CEO Scott Kirby warned that due to shortages of pilots and other airline workers, plans to bulk up capacity in 2023 and beyond “are simply unachievable.”

He noted that United, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines alone intend to hire about 8,000 pilots this year, compared with a historical range of 6,000 to 7,000 pilots per year.

“We believe any airline that tries to run at the same staffing levels that it had pre-pandemic is bound to fail,” Kirby said on a United earnings call, “and likely to tip over to meltdown anytime there are weather or air traffic control stresses in the system.”

Houston serves as one of United’s hubs. The local hub employs more than 12,000 people. On May 4, the airline held a career fair aimed at filling jobs at George Bush Intercontinental. United plans to add 3,000 employees in Houston by 2026.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.