Exclusive: Starfish Nets $3M from the DIU

Image: Starfish

Starfish Space, the Seattle-based startup building vehicles to support a future on-orbit servicing economy, has snagged a $3M contract from National Security Innovation Capital (NSIC), a technology development arm of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). 

The funds will help Starfish push its Nautilus electrostatic adhesive docking and capture mechanism through the next phases of development.

“We believe RPOD [Rendezvous, Proximity Operations, and Docking] and ISAM capabilities are becoming increasingly important to the DoD as it looks to increase the defensibility and maneuverability of US assets on-orbit,” Ari Juster, Starfish strategy and ops lead, told Payload via email.

Building Nautilus: Starfish is building a fleet of servicing vehicles called Otters, which will be able to dock with any satellite in orbit for refueling and other servicing operations. Its Nautilus capture mechanism is an important piece of the puzzle—the electrostatic adhesive docking technique is meant to be able to grab onto any common satellite material as long as there’s a palm-sized flat surface available.

  • The company has already built and tested a version of Nautilus on the ground.
  • This contract will push Nautilus forward by “advancing the design of our prototypes and exploring complementary adhesive/capture technologies, using increasingly rigorous testing regimes to push Nautilus to the limit,” Juster said.

You otter be ready: Otter Pup, the company’s first on-orbit capture demo mission, is slated for launch this summer. Starfish will test a version of Nautilus on this mission, performing at least one capture and undocking with a client craft. If that maneuver is successful, then the company will assess other potential test cases.

The pup grows up: Starfish closed a $14M Series A earlier this month to speed up development of the first commercial Otter vehicles. Since then, Juster said the company has brought on five additional employees, bringing headcount to 31, and continued its conversations with potential customers.