From contractor to satellite operator: Q&A with Sidus Space CEO Carol Craig
TAMPA, Fla. — Sidus Space became a public company in December to help transform the Space Coast government contractor into a commercial satellite constellation operator.
The company raised $15 million by listing shares Dec. 14 on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the SIDU symbol, without a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger that other space companies have recently been using to go public.
The shares priced at $5 each on the Nasdaq Capital Market, Nasdaq’s least-stringent tier intended for early-stage companies with relatively small market capitalizations, and closed up at $12.19 after its first day of trading, before slumping to around $9 as this article went to press.
Proceeds from the listing will help Sidus grow an international sales team and buy 3D printers and other hardware for a network of 100 satellites, which the company says aim to initially provide on-orbit testing services, after securing spectrum rights for the constellation last February.
The planned constellation comes after Sidus changed its name last year from Craig Technologies Aerospace Solutions, which was created as a manufacturing subsidiary a decade ago for Craig Technologies, a technology solutions provider founded in 1999.
Despite going public, Sidus remains majority owned by Craig Technologies, whose CEO Carol Craig continues to effectively control Sidus by retaining voting rights.
SpaceNews interviewed Craig, the first woman owner-founder of a space company to go public, to learn more about her plans as Sidus prepares to deploy its first satellite toward the end of this year.
Why did you choose to raise funds on the public market, and why didn’t you pursue a merger with a SPAC to do it?
I funded Craig Technologies and even the beginning of Sidus Space on my own dime, essentially, and frankly I was tired of using my money — I wanted to be able to accelerate. That’s always the challenge. If you don’t have money, you can’t accelerate, and we really have done some great things over the last few years and wanted to take advantage of it.
So I decided to look at capital and talked to several people: venture capital, private equity — all that kind of stuff — and frankly I was not impressed. I was very frustrated until the option to go public presented itself. People talk about the difficulties, the time it takes, but it really took us like five months.
As far as difficulties, we’re a government contractor and in my mind that’s the hard part. You have audits every couple of months, and you’ve got to make sure your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted and you don’t do anything wrong. It’s the same concept to me when it comes to being a public company. I’ve got a responsibility to shareholders just like I had a responsibility to the government, or taxpayers.
I talked with a couple of SPACs and people about that. Number one, the more I read on it, it just didn’t seem like something I wanted to be a part of. I wouldn’t say that it’s not legitimate, but somebody described it as going in the backdoor — or going in through the side window, as opposed to going in the front door. I like transparency. I like the idea of doing this upfront, the way most people expect it to be done.
It would also get a little bit muddy when people would look at the two companies and ask about Craig Technologies, which is really a separate business model. Merging the two together at this time didn’t make sense. The public option allowed me to keep Sidus separate, and also allowed me to only give up a lesser minority share of the company to raise capital. I’m not saying I’m always going to have the majority. That isn’t my intent whatsoever, we’re going to want to do additional raises and we’ve got that option now.
Do you see other government space contractors already used to rigorous audits becoming public companies?
I don’t think so. If I didn’t have Sidus and the commercial side of things, I don’t think I would’ve done it. But I do think that you might see more of the space companies that are focused on commercial, and maybe a little bit government, going this route. It still isn’t for the faint of heart, just like government contracting, but I would be surprised if I saw smaller government contractors going that route.
Sidus describes itself as a space-as-a-service company, but so far its only meaningful revenues have come from subcontracting work, mainly for NASA and the International Space Station. What inspired you to move beyond that, and what’s the plan for the 100 satellites that have secured spectrum?
One thing that inspired us to move was the fact that we have an on-orbit satellite deployer up on the ISS. We entered a contract with NASA for a platform called SSIKLOPS [Space Stations Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems], which allows us to deploy up to a 110-kilogram satellite off of the ISS. There’s only one other company up there that does that, that’s Nanoracks and they can’t launch the size that we have right at this time.
So that moved us toward the idea of supporting commercial customers, not just government contracts. We’ve also deployed a flight test platform that went up on the outside of the ISS that enabled the testing of a variety of different types of subsystems for satellites up in that microgravity environment — another little piece with more of a commercial view.
Just being a small manufacturer isn’t going to cut it with where space is going, and having been in it for so long we understood that. One of the things that we saw was a challenge to get technologies flight certified, or space heritage. We’re able to do that because we’re building hardware and we have been for the last 10 years for all kinds of different programs. So we said there needs to be a sort of on-orbit test platform, if you will, for testing satellite subsystems, components, technologies. More than just our flight test platform that went on the outside of the ISS.
That is what really started our move toward a constellation that could help others get their technologies tested, whether software or hardware.
Also, you can integrate multiple payloads on our 3D-printed satellites because they have a modular design, meaning we can integrate our own technologies and equipment to pull down data. Because, if we’re going to have a satellite constellation up there supporting and testing customer technologies, why not gather that data for ourselves? That’s when we moved into the second vertical that we’re focused on and that’s the data collection and data analytics.
Are you planning to launch all the satellites from the ISS?
No, we’re absolutely exploring other launch options. The ISS is easy. It’s convenient. The first couple will be launched from there, but many of the customers have other requirements, whether it’s sun-synchronous polar, or different inclinations and altitudes. Our spectrum allows for all of that.
There are so many launch options out there and the cost just keeps getting lower and lower, and that’s to our advantage. We’re also manufacturing our own satellites and, with multiple satellites in production at various stages, we can integrate technologies at varying points in that manufacturing life cycle. That gives us the flexibility to truly customize based on customer needs and service them a lot faster too.
What’s the deadline for getting your satellites up?
We received spectrum approval in February last year from the ITU and, just like with the FCC, it’s seven years. The approval is for between 300 and 650 kilometers, multiple inclinations and different frequencies on the S and X bands for a hundred satellites. If we realize that we’ve got more customers, we can modify that.
It was a “build it and they will come” kind of a thing. I’ve always put the infrastructure in place first, the stuff that people think is hard. When somebody wants to deploy a satellite or they want to test the technology, a lot of times they’ll have to get an experimental spectrum license. In this case, we have everything, we own the constellation, we own the spectrum, so there’s really nothing that a customer has to do.
What customer commitments do you have for the constellation?
I can only mention a couple, because we’re a public company, but there’s one called Mission Helios testing technology for NFTs, and then NASA. The nice thing about being in business, for 20-plus years for me personally and Sidus for the last 10, is we have a pipeline of customers already.
And these are for LizzieSat-1, your first satellite that expects to launch in the fourth quarter of this year?
Yes, we are manifested to launch off the ISS at the end of this year. We actually have customers for other satellites — we’re not just doing one satellite launch and seeing what happens. We’ll have multiple in production at one time.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
When I look at the IPO, it’s almost like we’re bringing space down to Earth for shareholders as well [as making space more accessible for companies], because they’re able to be a part of something at this level, at the share price that it’s at.
The venture capital guys are the ones that have really been able to invest in space and, even with some of these SPACs, you don’t have a whole lot of movement because of the valuation, but we have brought space down to Earth even from an investing perspective.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity