Strong progress on hypersonic technology at a critical moment
Venus Aerospace has made headlines for its mission to unlock one-hour global travel, making it possible for an American to attend an in-person meeting in Japan and be “home for dinner.” The path to this civilian mission also includes numerous breakthroughs that promise to advance American interests in the escalating geo-political competition for hypersonic technology.
We are excited to announce that we are leading Venus Aerospace’s $20M Series A funding round after leading the company’s $3M Series Seed round in January 2021. Draper Associates, BoostVC, and Saturn Five, our co-investors in Venus’ seed round, all joined us in the Series A round as well.
Our decision to lead this financing round was based on Venus’ impressive execution over the past year, during which the team, led by CEO Sarah “Sassie” Duggleby and CTO Andrew Duggleby, successfully achieved all key Series Seed milestones on its mission to unlock one-hour global travel at the edge of space. Venus also filled multiple critical engineering and leadership roles, including new COO Brent Lytle, who brings more than 20 years of experience in rockets, human spaceflight, satellites, and aerospace to Venus.
“We are excited to continue our partnership with Prime Movers Lab and our other great investors. In the past year, with our initial funding, we have scaled from 3 people to 40. These are the world’s best rocket scientists, engineers, and operators.” -Sassie Duggleby, CEO and Co-founder
Here are a few of the company’s 2021 technology, business, and team wins:
Engineers have been chasing a credible “spaceplane” design for nearly 100 years. (See our recent thought paper on High-Speed Flight, which includes a historical graph of hypersonic programs.) We believe Venus will succeed because of three key technologies it is leveraging: its breakthrough propulsion system, aerodynamically optimized vehicle shape, and novel solution for leading-edge cooling that utilizes advances in additive manufacturing.
Venus’ propulsion system breakthrough enables a rotating detonation rocket engine to achieve stable combustion, scale to high thrust, and deliver increased efficiency. Detonation sounds scary, but this isn’t a bomb – instead, think of it as “pressure gain combustion.” In a typical combustor, there is pressure loss. Here, the detonation wave causes a pressure rise across the shock, theoretically improving the efficiency of the engine by ~15–20%. That huge increase is one key to unlocking reusable hypersonic travel.
The successful “hot-fire” of Venus’ engine concept is a major milestone, as is the completion of its engine test stand at the Houston Spaceport. In addition to these propulsion achievements, Venus also validated its vehicle’s aerodynamic design process with wind tunnel testing. Last, Venus achieved a key government partnership milestone by successfully completing its AFWERX Phase I STTR in collaboration with Georgia Tech for the leading-edge cooling design and is currently executing on its Phase II follow-on program in collaboration with the University of Arizona.
Venus continues to make progress toward its zero-carbon emission civilian spaceplane capable of carrying people across the world in 1–2 hours. As Sassie told the Houston Chronicle, “There will always be a reason for meeting face-to-face. With Venus Aerospace . . . travelers could fly halfway around the world and back within a workday.”
In addition to commercial air travel, hypersonic technology has important geo-political implications, which Russia underscored recently when it fired multiple hypersonic missiles at targets in Ukraine. Hypersonic technology was a priority for the United States government at the time of our Series Seed investment, and it is even more so today: U.S. Department of Defense Undersecretary for Research & Development Heidi Shyu recently emphasized the importance of hypersonic technology to deter global rivals in an interview with Defense One. The Venus team is making an important contribution to America’s progress in this high-stakes, global competition.
Venus Aerospace was founded by husband-and-wife team Andrew and Sassie Duggleby. Sassie serves as CEO, and Andrew serves as CTO and is Venus’ key technical leader. They now lead a team of 40 based at Venus’ new headquarters at the Houston Spaceport, which includes room to continue scaling the team, as well as easy access to test and launch facilities.
Just as important as the physical space, Sassie and Andrew continue to build an inspiring team culture, beginning many meetings (including Board Meetings) by leading team members in a gratitude practice. Check out Venus’ site to learn more, and reach out if you’re interested in any of these open roles.
Thank you to my partners, Liz Stein (Twitter) and Brad Pruente for their contributions to this post and their support of Venus Aerospace. All of us at Prime Movers Lab look forward to continuing to support the Venus team as they advance their vision that regardless of where the day’s mission takes us, we can be “home for dinner.”
Prime Movers Lab invests in breakthrough scientific startups founded by Prime Movers, the inventors who transform billions of lives. We invest in companies reinventing energy, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, human augmentation, and agriculture.
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