March 10, 2023

Introducing K2 Space: Building Satellites for a Post-Starship Future

Breathtaking images from The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are unlocking breakthrough science for the world. While JWST is the most advanced telescope ever developed, it's easy to forget that the road to its launch was filled with a series of tradeoffs driven by harsh mass and volume constraints. These constraints imposed complexity, cost, and development time which ultimately contributed to a 20+ year timeline and $10B program cost. 

The mass and volume constraints that plagued the JWST program continue to shape satellites today. Satellite operators face two choices:

  • Large, exquisite satellites with high payload mass and power but high cost
  • Small, low-performance satellites with low payload mass and power but low cost

These restrictions hold back humanity’s ability to deploy even more ambitious spacecraft to survey the galaxy, explore other planets, and deliver meaningful services for everyone on Earth.

We’re about to move from an era of mass constraint to mass abundance.

A single Starship launching at a cadence of three times per week is capable of delivering more mass to orbit in a single year than humanity has launched to date. Multiple Starships operating at even higher cadences offer the potential to exceed this delivered mass by almost two orders of magnitude.

This staggering launch capacity raises important questions: What exactly is going to be in all of these Starships? Starlink will certainly consume some of this capacity, but how will the rest of the space industry tap into this incredible capacity? If SpaceX delivers on the cost and performance targets of Starship, the satellite industry is not prepared to make full use of it.

Breaking the correlation between mass and cost

At K2 Space, we are developing large satellites for a post-Starship world. We’re going to forever break the close correlation between satellite size and cost in order to open up a third and better option: highly capable, low cost satellites.

Developing a satellite that breaks off the mass and cost curve requires re-thinking its entire design from the reaction wheel up. We’ve applied a new philosophy of trading mass and cost to develop novel attitude control systems, high power systems, and highly capable thermal systems that all operate in a regime far outside of the capabilities of small satellites today.

Our satellite buses are designed to allow operators and payload designers to abandon the game of tradeoffs that has stunted many applications to date. Our Mega Class satellite bus will offer the payload mass, power, and volume of today’s exquisite large satellites at the price point of today’s small satellites. Our Giga Class satellite bus will push this concept even further as the largest and highest power commercial satellite ever deployed in space. These satellites will unlock the full capability of LEO, MEO, GEO, and beyond when paired with launch vehicles like F9, Starship, and New Glenn.

Making previously impossible missions possible

The K2 Space satellite buses will allow mission designers to tap into the full capabilities of these new launch vehicles:

  • Large commercial operators will finally be able to make the business case close on a 20kW+ satellite constellation in LEO or MEO (where the price per unit is $15M instead of $150M)
  • New space companies will finally have an option to operate at scale, deploying remote sensing payloads, robotic servicing platforms, and other infrastructure that will provide the foundation for future space development
  • Scientists will be able to deploy powerful, low cost probes to explore the solar system and develop cost effective telescopes that use the full 8m volume of Starship to examine the stars
  • Defense end-users will be able to develop resilient space architecture, achieving proliferation through affordability without sacrificing performance or speed of delivery (we’ve received a Phase I SBIR and STTR, multiple customer memorandums and five letters of support so far) 

We see K2 as the bedrock for these future space applications, helping make previously impossible missions possible.

From an idea on (wall)paper to an experienced team 

We’re brothers, and as kids we moved into a new house where one bedroom had an entire wall covered with a wallpaper depiction of the Earthrise (the Earth rising over the moon). We fought over that prized room. Eventually, big brother (Karan) privileges prevailed, but it was little brother (Neel) who dedicated his life to endeavors in space. He spent five years at SpaceX, helping develop the avionics systems for each Dragon spacecraft and acting as a Mission Director for several missions. Meanwhile, Karan built new businesses, most recently helping scale an AI startup from seed through successful exit. 

With K2, we’ve brought together a team of engineers who’ve worked on Dragon, Starlink, and Kuiper with advisors across science (former Deputy Administrator of NASA), defense (former Space Launch Group Commander at the USAF) and commercial (former CTO of SES). We’re excited to introduce each of them over the coming weeks. 

We’ve raised an $8.5M seed round co-led by First Round Capital and Republic Capital, with participation from leading deep tech investors Boost VC, Also Capital, and Countdown Capital among others. Our cap table includes ex-SpaceXers, founders, and investors who are all excited by the potential for K2 Space to change the way we operate in space. 

Accelerating the sci-fi future that was always promised

Our plan is to tackle discrete, concrete steps in order to build a practical path to a sci-fi future. We’re starting with components, developing prototypes of the reaction wheel, power systems, avionics, and other systems. We’re going to take these components and put them in space in a 2024 demo mission, getting heritage on these systems while taking an important step towards being a real space company. From there, we’re targeting a 2025 launch of our mega class satellite to show what’s possible with this new design paradigm. 

The astronomer Nikolai Kardashev famously came up with the Kardashev scale as a measure of a civilization’s technological advancement. A Kardashev Type I civilization, or K1, is able to harness all of the energy that reaches its planet. A Type II civilization, or K2, can harness the energy radiated by its star. We’ll never be able to build the superstructures envisioned for a K2 civilization (like a Dyson sphere) in the old mass constrained way. It's only by breaking the correlation between spacecraft size and cost that we can achieve this future, which is why we call ourselves K2 Space. 

It’s going to be a wild ride — reach out if you’re interested in becoming a part of the journey.

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