Stoke Space has received multiple investments from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, TechCrunch 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 Principal William Morrison confirmed 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 spokesperson said. Stoke joins a very small cadre of launch companies —including Rocket Lab and ABL Space Systems — that have received investment from the firm.
“The team has been incredible at execution, insanely capital efficient,” Morrison said.
Kent, Washington-based Stoke was founded in 2019 by Andy Lapsa and Tom Feldman. They started the company after years-long stints as propulsion engineers at Blue Origin; when they left, Lapsa held a director-level 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 back to Earth. The rocket is being designed to fly daily, a feature that is likely especially attractive to defense customers. The U.S. Space Force has publicly stated its interest in procuring rapid turn-around 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. More recently, the USSF said it would set aside a dedicated area for Stoke’s use at the historic Cape Canaveral — Launch Complex 14, where multiple lift offs occurred in the 1960s. According to its website, Stoke is currently preparing to fly the reusable upper stage on a vertical take-off and landing “hopper” test flight.
“Space access continues to be launch availability constrained,” Lapsa said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Building a robust commercial launch economy is critical to sustaining our industrial base and ensuring space access for defense and national security needs.”
In-Q-Tel was established in 1999 as a not-for-profit venture 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, like 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 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. Checks usually range from $250,000 to $3 million, the firm says on its website. An In-Q-Tel spokesperson confirmed all of its investments in Stoke are within that window.
Morrison added in a separate written statement that access to space is an important focus area for the firm. “Stoke Space’s unique architecture has the potential to change the way we all design for and use space,” he said.