Benchmark Clinches $33M, Launches Autopilot for Satellites

Image: Benchmark

Benchmark Space Systems, the Burlington, VT-based propulsion systems provider, is keeping busy. This week, the company announced a $33M Series B funding round, unveiled new digs, and debuted a brand-new satellite autopilot product called SmartAIM.

Benchmark’s Series B

Benchmark announced this morning that it’s closed a $33M Series B to speed up the process of transitioning its primary focus from R&D to production to meet customer demand and fulfill the 250+ backlogged orders for its nontoxic thruster systems for satellites across the size spectrum.

SP Catamount led the round, which also included participation from JH Capital, The Fund at Hula, FreshTracks Capital, and several past investors.

The new HQ: A “significant part” of the Series B round went toward a new facility for propulsion systems manufacturing and testing, CEO Ryan McDevitt told Payload. The new facility is 40,000 square feet—about four times the size of the previous building—and will allow the company to pick up its production rate.

Benchmark has already started the move into the new facility and will be ramping up production over the coming months. To date, Benchmark has delivered seven propulsion systems and is planning to deliver another dozen units this year. Eventually, the new facility will be able to produce “hundreds of systems a year,” COO Wesley Grove told Payload.

Hands-off collision avoidance

Benchmark also announced yesterday that it’s launching SmartAIM, a software layer to act as a driver assist for satellites, taking the complexity out of conducting maneuvers.

SmartAIM started as a project with AFRL, and grew into a commercial offering to support a safe orbital environment. “They wanted a layer between the bus stack in the satellite’s GNC system and the propulsion that could translate abstract maneuver mobility commands and the propulsion controller would handle the rest,” Benchmark EVP Chris Carella told Payload.

The result: A software product that, at its base level, allows operators to send simpler commands to its satellites that the system will then interpret. As it gets more sophisticated, the software can allow complete autonomy when the system determines a maneuver is necessary. Benchmark has partnered with Kayhan Space to enable automatic collision avoidance maneuvers, making the operation of fleets of satellites safer and more manageable.

“We have customers that went from a couple of demonstrators to batches of eight to 16 satellites,” Carella said. “And they’re saying, ‘Oh, boy, we can never sleep. It’s like a newborn at night. There’s always one that needs attention.’ And then you have folks saying, ‘We’re gonna go fly 100 or 300 satellites’—what army is going to drive the decisions across 300 satellites?”

SmartAIM will be available to customers on a subscription basis as a software layer, compatible with all of Benchmark’s propulsion systems.

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