StokeSpace has received several investments from In-Q-Tel, the strategic investor for the US intelligence and defense community, TechCrunch has learned.
Stoke Space and In-Q-Tel have not yet publicly announced their relationship. Although In-Q-Tel is legally a separate entity from any government agency, the company receives all of its funding from government partners, including the defense and intelligence communities.
William Morrison, a director of In-Q-Tel, confirmed that he led the most recent investment, which closed at the end of February, and that the company has already made several investments in the company. In addition to the investment, the two companies also signed a “technology development agreement,” said a spokesman for In-Q-Tel. Stoke joins a very small cadre of launch vehicle companies – including Rocket Lab and ABL Space Systems – who have received investments from the firm.
“The team was incredibly good at execution and incredibly capital efficient,” said Morrison.
Based in Kent, Washington, Stoke was founded in 2019 by Andy Lapsa and Tom Feldman. They founded the company after years as propulsion engineers at Blue Origin; When they left, Lapsa held a director-level position and Feldman was chief engineer. Stoke develops a fully reusable launch vehicle capable of returning both the booster and second stage to Earth. The missile is designed for everyday flight, a feature likely to be particularly attractive to defense customers. The US Space Force has publicly expressed interest in acquiring fast launch capabilities.
Stoke raised $65 million in a Series A round in December 2021 from investors including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Toyota Ventures and Spark Capital. Recently, the USSF announced that it would reserve a dedicated area for Stokes use at historic Cape Canaveral – Launch Complex 14, where several launches took place in the 1960’s. According to its website, Stoke is currently preparing to fly the reusable upper stage on a ‘Hopper’ vertical takeoff and landing test flight.
“Access to space remains limited by launch availability,” Lapsa said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Building a robust commercial launch vehicle economy is critical to sustaining our industrial base and ensuring access to space for defense and national security needs.”
In-Q-Tel was founded in 1999 as a not-for-profit corporation to help the federal government capitalize on growing innovation and emerging technology in the private sector. The company sources technology from startups for the CIA and other government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. One of In-Q-Tel’s key value propositions is facilitating connections between private companies and its government partners, including the intelligence community.
In-Q-Tel has made 25 investments in the space sector, including Stoke. Other investments include Capella Space, Palantir and Swarm Technologies, which was acquired by SpaceX. The checks are typically between $250,000 and $3 million, the company says on its website. An In-Q-Tel spokesman confirmed that all investments in Stoke fall within this window.
Morrison added in a separate written statement that access to space is a key area of focus for the company. “Stoke Space’s unique architecture has the potential to change the way we all design and use space,” he said.