With the addition of Mitsubishi, Starlab now boasts three equity partners. Photo via starlab-space.com

Houston-based Starlab Space, which is developing a commercial space station, has enlisted a high-profile investor — Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi.

With the addition of Mitsubishi, Starlab now boasts three equity partners. The two others are aerospace company Voyager Space and defense and space product manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space. Financial terms of the Mitsubishi deal weren’t disclosed.

Voyager and Airbus finalized creation of the Starlab joint venture in January 2024. The two companies announced the joint venture in August 2023.

Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager, says the Mitsubishi partnership will help “unlock space technology on a global scale and drive meaningful impact across several industries, from space to ground.”

“We are very pleased to welcome Mitsubishi … as a strategic partner in our joint venture with Voyager Space. This brings Starlab Space to the next level on the way to a truly global endeavor,” Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, says in a news release.

The continuously staffed, low-Earth-orbit Starlab space station will serve NASA, other space agencies, businesses, and research organizations.

Starlab announced in January 2024 that it had tapped Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship to launch Starlab’s stainless-steel space station. A launch date hasn’t been revealed, although it’s tentatively set for the late 2020s.

The Starlab station will help fill the gap that’ll be left by the International Space Station, which NASA plans to retire in 2031.

A Houston company's technology will help space operators predict coronal mass ejections. Photo via nasa.gov

Houston extended reality company pivots, secures NASA contract

space tech

Following a rebrand, a Houston tech startup has secured a NASA contract for space weather technology.

Dauntless XR received a contract from NASA to advance its spatial computing platform, Aura. The technology uses satellite sensor data and mixed reality to help space operators with weather forecasting, including solar activity.

The company, which was founded by Lori-Lee Elliott as Future Sight AR in 2018 to focus on industrial construction, made a pivot to the space and defense industries and rebranded last year.

"We are in an incredibly interesting stage of space exploration, between record-breaking numbers of satellite launches, missions to the moon and Mars, and even returning asteroid samples to Earth," says Elliott, who serves as CEO, in the release. "With space weather, we are presented with an opportunity to make incredibly complex data easily accessible and provide a platform for innovation — and collaboration — for the space economy and space exploration."

The company is tasked with an extended reality space weather application. Per the release, the app will first be available on the Apple Vision Pro and the Meta Quest devices.

"Our first release will include a special edition of our Aura application with a 3D immersive experience visualizing coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, coming off the sun," the company explains in a blog post. "When a CME hits Earth, it produces auroras, but can also cause power outages, knock out radio signals & GPS, and interfere with rocket launches. As the space economy grows and more people use space data, we hope that our apps make that data easy to access and understand."

The company has also received $1.5 million in United States Air Force contracts. This included two SBIR II contracts that "focused on mixed reality assisted workflows, training and mission planning," according to Dauntless XR. Elliott is based in Houston and the company has offices in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Hawaii.

Lori-Lee Elliott founded Dauntless XR. Photo via LinkedIn

Venus Aerospace has worked with NASA on testing its unique engine technology. Photo courtesy Venus Aerospace

Houston rocket tech company partners with NASA on critical testing

heating up

A Houston-headquartered space tech company that's working on technology to enable hypersonic travel has announced a partnership with NASA to test its tech.

Venus Aerospace has partnered with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on what is reportedly the longest sustained tests of a rotating detonation rocket engine, also known as an RDRE.

“Venus believes strongly in the performance step-change that RDREs bring for both hypersonic and space applications. The partnership with NASA has been key in maturing this new technology.” Andrew Duggleby, CTO and co-founder of Venus Aerospace, says in a news release.

The company's engine injector, which used regeneratively-cooled RDRE architecture, was tested in a "flight-like manner," according to the company. The technology operated successfully for 4 minutes of hotfire testing — a significant improvement, as engine tests of this type last for only 1 to 2 seconds, according to Venus.

"This long-duration hotfire means RDRE’s have retired a major risk area and are able to move into the few remaining steps before a flight demonstration," reads the press release from Venus.

As Venus continues to develop its technology for research, defense, and commercial missions, it will continue to work with NASA, which is also looking into RDRE technology for lunar and martian landers, in-space operations and logistics, and other deep space missions, per the release, because RDREs are more compact, efficient, and versatile than traditional rocket engines.

"Venus has entered into a second-year contract with NASA to provide engine parts for research and development of NASA’s RDRE," the news release continues. "In year two, NASA, with Venus’s support, will test different propellant combinations on hardware, to operate at even higher thrust levels and to demonstrate efficiency gains promised by the detonation engine."

Last summer, Venus added a new investor to its cap table. Andrew Duggleby founded Venus Aerospace with his wife and CEO Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby in 2020, before relocating to the Houston Spaceport in 2021. Last year, Venus raised a $20 million series A round.

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.

It's a busy time for Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which recently announced the launch date for its historic lunar mission and a new Air Force contract. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Houston space tech company snags $9.5M contract, sets launch date for lunar mission

green light

Business at Houston-based space exploration company Intuitive Machines is taking off on two fronts.

First, Intuitive Machines has landed a nearly $9.5 million Air Force contract to develop technology for NASA’s Gateway project, the first space station that will orbit the moon. Specifically, the technology will support a high-powered nuclear fission system that will supply electricity for satellites, bypassing the need for power from solar, battery, or fuel-cell sources.

“As space exploration ventures become more ambitious and diverse, the need for efficient and reliable power sources in space is paramount,” Pete McGrath, vice president of business development at Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Developing the ability to expand power sources beyond solar, which requires heavy battery storage, could remove the burden of constantly worrying about a spacecraft’s arrays relative to the sun, and potentially deliver long-term stability for satellites that would otherwise lose power over time.”

Second, Intuitive Machines has set January window for the launch of its IM-1 lunar mission in conjunction with private aerospace company SpaceX. The liftoff is targeted for a multiday window that opens January 12, 2024.

“There are inherent challenges of lunar missions; schedule changes and mission adjustments are a natural consequence of pioneering lunar exploration,” Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Receiving a launch window and the required approvals to fly is a remarkable achievement, and the schedule adjustment is a small price to pay for making history.”

The IM-1 mission will be the company’s first attempted lunar landing as part of NASA’s commercial payload initiative.

Intuitive Machines went public earlier this year via SPAC. Co-founder Tim Crain shared a bit of the origin story of the company on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.


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.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Accenture, Goodwill-backed cleantech job accelerator celebrates Houston launch

up and running

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance cleantech jobs — and the program has officially celebrated its launch in Houston.

Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator, an industry-focused full-time free jobs training program that was originally announced last year. The first cohort graduated earlier this year, and the second is ongoing.

"Through the CTA, we want to shape the future of sustainable energy in Houston by recruiting underrepresented jobseekers and equipping them with technical proficiency, safety and clean tech certifications, and facilitating placement with local employers," a representative from Accenture states in an email. "Following a quiet initial launch, this event was the official kickoff."

The event also demonstrated the opportunities within the CTA program for job seekers to prepare for the most in-demand clean energy careers in Houston. The accelerator is targeting a specific set of advanced energy jobs — the 40 percent that don't require college degrees and and pay more than the median salary in the United States.

According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The program, which was co-designed by Accenture, will be run by Goodwill. Participants identified as under and unemployed individuals and accepted into the program will be compensated as they undergo the training and career placement services.

"As our labor market transitions, we see important opportunities for people to move into more promising roles with better pay. It is essential that we provide the training and other support needed to ensure people capture these opportunities," Steve Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says in a news release announcing the program. "The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will open doors for people in an expanding industry and provide support to employers who are helping us transition to a more sustainable world."

Speakers included leaders from the participating organizations. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Houston energy innovation leader calls for collaboration to tackle the industry's biggest hurdles

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 231

When Barbara Burger moved to Houston a little over a decade ago to lead Chevron Technology Ventures, she wondered why the corporate venture group didn't have much representation from the so-called energy capital of the world.

“I had no companies in my portfolio in CTV from Houston, and I wondered why,” Burger says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Much has changed in the ecosystem since then, she says, including growth and development to what the community looks like now.

“There are a few things I’m proud of in the ecosystem here, and one of theme is that it’s a very inclusive ecosystem,” she explains, adding that she means the types of founders — from universities or corporate roles — and the incumbent energy companies. “The worst way to get people to not join a party is to not invite them.”

“No one company or organization is going to solve this. We have to get along,” she continues. “We have to stop thinking that the mode is to compete with each other because the pie is so big and the opportunity is so big to work together — and by and large I do see that happening.”



Burger, who has since graduated from Chevron to act as an adviser, mentor, and philanthropist across her passions, also shares her insider perspective on CERAWeek by S&P Global — from the key topics discussed to who was there this year and, notably, who wasn't. One thing that stood out to here was the practicality problems that were on the agenda.

“We need an energy system that focuses on climate, the economy, security — a lot of this is just the block and tackling of engineering, policy, economics, and community engagement. I think it was a practical discussion,” she says.

Another huge topic was the amount of energy needed in the near future.

“Everybody has woken up and realized that our load growth — our demand — is growing, and because of all kinds of things pointing toward electrification. I think that the big one in the room was AI and the power demands for it,” she says.

In addition to finding the funding to grow these new technologies, scale is extremely important when it comes to making an impact on the energy transition.

“It’s not just about the innovation — it’s really about scaling that innovation and that execution, because that’s when we get impact, when these technologies are actually used in the energy system, and when we create new businesses,” she explains on the show. “It’s going to take investment, capabilities, a real understanding of the marketplace, and, in many cases, it’s going to take a relationship with the government.”

Houston organization introduces inaugural cancer-fighting cohort of data sciences, experts

new to hou

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is one step closer to ending cancer thanks to its new institute that's focused on data science.

MD Anderson’s goal with the new Institute for Data Science in Oncology (IDSO) is to advance collaborative projects that will bring the power of data science to every decision made at the hospital. And now, the IDSO has announced its inaugural cohort of 33 scientists, clinicians, and staff that will bring it to life, joining the already appointed leadership and focus area co-leads.

“By engaging diverse expertise across all of our mission areas, we will enhance the rich and productive data science ecosystem at MD Anderson to deliver transformational impact for patients,” David Jaffray, Ph.D., director of IDSO and chief technology and digital officer at MD Anderson, says in a press release.

The focus areas for the IDSO are quantitative pathology and medical imaging; single-cell analytics; computational modeling for precision medicine; decision analytics for health; and safety, quality, and access.

The IDSO Affiliates, as they are known, are a mix of existing contributors to the IDSO and team members who were recruited specifically for their expertise in data science. The affiliates were chosen to fulfill a two-year term, during which they will focus on IDSO projects related to the focus areas above. The diverse roster of professionals includes:

“Our affiliates bring expertise, perspectives and commitment from across the institution to foster impactful data science in order to tackle the most urgent needs of our patients and their families,” said Caroline Chung, M.D., director of Data Science Development and Implementation for IDSO and chief data officer at MD Anderson. “People and community are at the heart of our efforts, and establishing the IDSO Affiliates is an exciting step in growing the most impactful ecosystem for data science in the world.”