Editor’s note: This story has been updated to better reflect how Near Space Labs gathers its geospatial imaging.
Fresh from college in the early 1990s, Jim Adler landed his first engineering job: working on avionics systems for spacecraft at General Dynamics in Southern California.
"You play with these amazingly huge toys that are worth billions of dollars," Adler recalled. "Best job you could ask for."
But an entrepreneurial spirit simmered and soon pulled him on a trajectory that included founding companies and guiding startups. Now in charge of Toyota Ventures, the automaker's venture capital arm, Adler finds his thoughts are once again turning toward space.
Toyota Ventures' latest activities, announced late last month, include investments in two space companies, Xona Space Systems and Near Space Labs.
Toyota isn't interested in a mammoth endeavor comparable to Elon Musk's SpaceX, manufacturing and launching its own missions. These are more niche space explorations. Xona Space Systems aims to launch a constellation of satellites that provides an alternative to GPS. Near Space Labs provides higher-quality geospatial imaging by using a proprietary device called a Swifty that’s deployed in the stratosphere.
Near Space Labs raised $13 million in its series A financing round, led by Crosslink Capital. Xona Space Systems raised $8 million in a round led by Seraphim Space Investment Trust and MaC Venture Capital. The influx funds Xona's first mission, slated for mid-2022. Toyota did not disclose its contributions.