Former Polaris Alpha CEO takes the helm at a new firm focused on space
- By Ross Wilkers
- Aug 31, 2020
Two years after he led one private equity-backed contractor through a sale, Pete Cannito has taken the lead at a new space technology market player in Redwire.
AE Industrial Partners launched Redwire through its acquisition of a payload provider and combined it with another component maker. Redwire then made its first deal relatively quickly.
In case anyone has not heard, space is a sector of hot interest both in terms of investment dollars in the private sector and government agencies’ willingness to lean on the former given changes in economic and investment models.
“Quickly when we started looking at the trends out there, space emerged as one of those areas we believe is really important for the future and was at a point in its lifecycle that it was really ripe for additional investment,” Cannito said of his work with AE in the lead-up to Redwire’s launch.
But what will make Redwire different in such a crowded field of competitors?
Cannito pointed to the fact that Redwire’s history traces back to 1957 through one legacy company in Adcole Space. Redwire’s other two pieces -- Deep Space Systems and Made In Space – were respectively founded in 2001 and 2010.
Such a blend offers both “heritage and innovation” as a differentiator, Cannito said, plus how he sees Redwire taking a “pragmatic approach” in the technologies it incorporates.
“There’s a lot of venture-backed companies out there that are truly disruptors. Many of those won’t survive and their technology will have to transition in some way,” Cannito told me. “The areas that we’re focusing on: we’re basically looking at those critical technologies and infrastructures associated with space exploration, civil and commercial, space infrastructure and national security solutions as well that can take advantage of on-orbit and in-space manufacturing and assembly.”
Made in Space was a specific example Cannito offered as a company that both disrupted the market it plays in and was able to get past what he called the “Valley of Death,” which means they became a cash flow positive business.
When asked about the changing economics of space and changes to come, Cannito also offered up a saying he repeats in speeches about the topic: “Physics will get you into space but economics will keep you there.”
Companies like Redwire are tasked to continue making those changes happen in order to make space more affordable to access both for government and commercial customers. Being able to do in-orbit assembly and manufacturing is one of those trends that helps bring costs down and change the model, according to Cannito.
By acquiring Made in Space, Redwire gains a contract to do just that for NASA’s Archinaut One mission for demonstrating in-space assembly of solar arrays.
For the most part today, the ability to get space assets up in the sky depends on the availability of launch platforms on the ground. Putting more weight into the launch platform means costs go up, as does designing and configuring the space assets to survive the launch.
“More so than ever, I believe that the space industry is open to new players and new ideas,” Cannito said, pointing to examples of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin that have been around for barely 20 years. “There’s a real open mindedness and a real understanding that we have to be able to do things differently in the future in order to realize the full potential of space.”
Potential future acquisitions also came up in our conversation given Redwire’s ownership. What makes a good fit for Redwire to make a deal?
“We’re looking for those companies that have demonstrated they have the expertise and flight heritage to successfully operate in space, but doing things in an innovative and new way that has a potential to transform how we go forward into the future," he said.
Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.