Orion Span Falls Far Short of Funding Goal to Support Its Commercial Space Station Ambitions

WASHINGTON — A startup with visions of developing private space stations raised only a small fraction of the funding it sought in a recent equity crowdfunding campaign, with no guarantee that it will be able to retain that funding.

Orion Span unveiled its plans in April to develop a private space station that could launch as soon as 2022 to serve the space tourism and research markets. At the time, the company disclosed few details about its financing, saying it was looking for potential partners to raise new funding rounds.

Orion Span announced in December that it was seeking to raise as much as $2 million through an equity crowdfunding campaign using a platform called SeedInvest. The effort is similar to more common crowdfunding efforts with the exception that Orion Span offered equity in exchange for contributions, taking advantage of relatively new regulations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow for crowdfunded investments. [Orion Span: A Luxury Space Station Idea in Pictures]

Orion Span claims it can launch a one-module space station, called Aurora Station, by 2022 for space tourism, but an equity crowdfunding campaign to support the company's plans fell far short of its goal. (Image credit: Orion Span)

The campaign was scheduled to end late Jan. 25, and Orion Span continued to promote the effort on social media through that day. Shortly after the deadline, the website for the campaign was no longer available on the SeedInvest site, and the company has not commented on the campaign on social media or other venues since then.

A copy of the SeedInvest page for Orion Span, archived by SpaceNews hours before the deadline Jan. 25, shows the company raised $225,700 by that point, far short of its public goal of $2 million. A copy of the site captured by the Internet Archive Jan. 26, just after the deadline, says the campaign raised $235,700.

SeedInvest, which says on its website that it accepts only about one percent of the startups who apply to use the site for equity crowdfunding, did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the total amount raised by Orion Span and why the campaign web site was no longer available.

Orion Span also declined to comment on the outcome of the crowdfunding campaign or its future plans. Courtney Merolle, a spokesperson representing the company, said in a Jan. 29 email that "it's a bit hectic right now and we are going to have to pass on this opportunity" to discuss the fundraising effort.

In a Nov. 30 Form C filing with the SEC, the company disclosed that it was carrying out the equity crowdfunding campaign, governed by a set of rules known as Regulation CF, alongside a separate, more conventional offering of equity governed by Regulation D, which together are called the "Combined Offerings" in the SEC filing. While Orion Span met one requirement under the offering to raise at least $25,000 in crowdfunded investment, that may not be sufficient for the funding round to close.

"Unless the Company raises at least the Target Amount of $25,000 under the Regulation CF Offering and a total of $1,000,000 under the Combined Offerings (the 'Closing Amount') by February 1st, 2019, no Securities will be sold in this Offering, investment commitments will be cancelled, and committed funds will be returned," the document states.

Orion Span reiterated that point later in the filing: "The Company is making concurrent offerings under both Regulation CF and Regulation D and unless the Company raises at least the target amount under the Regulation CF Offering and the closing amount under both offerings, it will not close this Offering."

It's not clear that Orion Span has raised enough money through the Regulation D offerings to meet that $1 million threshold. The company has yet to file documentation with the SEC revealing the sale of any securities made under Regulation D.

When the company announced its plans in April, it said it sought to place a single-module station called Aurora into orbit by 2022, capable of hosting six people at a time. The company claimed at the time that the station could be built for "tens of millions" of dollars, a figure far less than many satellites.

"I knew that space travel could be done far, far more cheaply — $65 million to build the whole thing," Frank Bunger, chief executive and founder of Orion Span, said in an interview published Jan. 10 by the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, where Bunger is an alumnus. He did not provide a rationale for that cost estimate.

Regardless of the cost, the company has shown few signs of progress in the months since its April 2018 announcement. In the SEC Form C filing, the company disclosed that, as of Sept. 30, it had only $998.86 of cash in hand and just two employees. In October, the company sold $50,000 of convertible notes, the proceeds of which would fund general operating expenses.

If the company does raise the $1 million required to close the round, it will spend $85,000 on offering expenses, according to its Form C filing. Of the rest, about 30 percent would go towards work on a ground-based model of the station, another 30 percent for general expenses and the rest on facility and other expenses, including additional investment filings for future rounds.

Orion Span also says it has deposits of $80,000 each from 26 customers. Those deposits, though, are held in an escrow fund, according to its SEC filing, and are fully refundable. The company would not recognize the funds until nine months before a customer's launch.

Whatever the outcome of this fundraising effort, the company acknowledged that it will need to raise much more money in the future. "There is no guarantee the Company will be able to raise such funds on acceptable terms or at all," its filing states. "Assuming the Company is able to raise sufficient capital, the management anticipates being able to launch in 2022, but there are numerous risks that may prevent or delay the start of product shipments."

"We're trying to be incremental in our development. We have a milestone-based development strategy," Frank Eichstadt, chief architect of Orion Span, said during a Nov. 28 panel session at the SpaceCom Expo conference in Houston. "Using that strategy, I believe that we can realistically get to this operational state within a reasonable number of years."

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.