enliven the space has received multiple investments from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, TechDigiPro has learned.
Stoke Space and In-Q-Tel have not publicly announced their relationship before. While In-Q-Tel is legally a separate entity from any government agency, it receives all of its funding from government partners, including the defense and intelligence community.
In-Q-Tel director William Morrison confirmed that he led the most recent investment, which closed at the end of February, and that the firm has made multiple investments in the company before. In addition to the investment, the two entities also signed a “technology development agreement,” an In-Q-Tel spokesman said. Stoke joins a very small group of launch companies, including Rocket Lab and ABL Space Systems, that have received investment from the company.
“The team has been incredible in execution, incredibly efficient in terms of capital,” Morrison said.
Kent, Washington-based Stoke was founded in 2019 by Andy Lapsa and Tom Feldman. They started the company after several years as powertrain engineers at Blue Origin; when they left, Lapsa was in a director’s position and Feldman was a senior engineer. Stoke is developing a fully reusable launch vehicle capable of returning both the booster and the second stage to Earth. The rocket is being designed for daily flight, a feature likely to be especially attractive to defense customers. The US Space Force has publicly stated its interest in acquiring rapid response launch capabilities.
Stoke raised $65m in a Series A round in December 2021, from investors including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Toyota Ventures and Spark Capital. Most recently, the USSF said it would reserve a dedicated area for Stoke’s use at the historic Cape Canaveral: Launch Complex 14, where multiple launches occurred in the 1960s. According to its website, Stoke is currently preparing to fly the reusable upper stage in a vertical takeoff and landing “hopper” test flight.
“Access to space continues to be limited by launch availability,” Lapsa said in a statement to TechDigiPro. “Building a strong commercial launch economy is critical to maintaining our industrial base and ensuring access to space for defense and national security needs.”
In-Q-Tel was established in 1999 as a not-for-profit company to help the federal government take advantage of growing innovation and emerging technologies in the private sector. The firm 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 their government partners, including in 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 typically range from $250,000 to $3 million, the firm says on its website. An In-Q-Tel spokesman confirmed that all of its investments in Stoke fall within that window.
Morrison added in a separate written statement that access to space is a major focus area for the company. “Stoke Space’s unique architecture has the potential to change the way we all design and use space,” he said.