it's rocket science

Houston startup with hypersonic engine tech adds new investor

This Houston company is one step closer to enabling high-speed global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A Houston-based company that's developing an engine that'll enable one-hour global transportation has announced its latest investor.

Venus Aerospace released the news that Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Airbus Ventures, has joined its team of investors. The supersonic combustion engine technology — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — is revolutionary because allows for travel at a higher elevation. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally.

“Venus has developed the world’s first liquid-propellant rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) with a double-digit percentage increase in efficiency over standard regular engines, making the hypersonic economy possible,” says Sassie Duggleby, CEO and co-founder of Venus, in a news release. “We’re delighted to bring Airbus Ventures into the Venus family and look forward to growing our collaboration as we harness the future of hypersonic flight.”

Duggleby founded Venus Aerospace with her husband and CTO Andrew in 2020, before relocating to the Houston Spaceport in 2021. Last year, Venus raised a $20 million series A round. That round, led by Prime Movers Lab, is being used to fund tech development and initial flight testing for building its Mach 9 hypersonic drone and Mach 9 spacecraft. Venus did not disclose how much their newest investor has contributed.

“In the world of RDREs, their pioneering approach — designing, building, and demonstrating the first liquid, storable-propellant fueled rotating detonation rocket engine — unlocks advanced aircraft capabilities and opens new vistas on our whole planetary system,” says Airbus Ventures Managing Partner Thomas d’Halluin in the release. “Venus’ compact, low mass, high efficiency engine capability will have an immediate impact on lunar and martian landers, space mobility and logistics, and deep space mission proposals.

"Here on Earth today, we will see unprecedented performance gains for drones of all kinds, and more practical and faster-than-anticipated opportunities for ultra-high-speed passenger and cargo rocket plane flights,” he continues.

Venus, which as has contracts with NASA and US Defense Agencies, has plans to test its technology this summer at its headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

“With the strong support of Airbus Ventures now joining our investor syndicate, our next round will let Venus take the final step from lab to prototype as we fly our drone to Mach 3 under RDRE power," says Andrew Duggleby, in the release. “This will include long-duration engine runs this summer at Spaceport Houston, as well as the design, build, and flight of our drone with the broader Venus team and our incredible partners.”

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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