Phase Four aims for constellation orders

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SAN FRANCISCO –Phase Four, an El Segundo, California startup, is expanding its leadership team as part of a campaign to aim its electric propulsion system toward the growing satellite constellation market.

“From a sales perspective when people want to order hundreds to thousands [of thrusters] obviously that’s a much more compelling opportunity than selling one or two,” said Beau Jarvis, who joined Phase Four in September as its chief revenue officer. “The goal is to be able to scale up the production of our system so we can address the needs once satellites become mass manufactured at scale.”

Before joining Phase Four, Jarvis was international sales vice president for Earth observation constellation operator Planet and chief revenue officer for Hawkeye 360, a startup building a radio frequency monitoring constellation.

In June, Phase Four made another key hire. Laura Overly, former supply chain lead for Millennium Space Systems, the military small satellite company Boeing is purchasing, became the Phase Four’s supply chain and materials director.

Phase Four is developing and testing electric thrusters for in-space transportation. Radio frequency waves generate plasma in the thrusters. The first flight demonstration is scheduled to occur later this year on an Astro Digital cubesat. NASA also plans to test one of the firm’s thrusters in space.

Although its technology has not yet flown, Phase Four has conducted the type of flight qualification and testing common among traditional aerospace systems. “We are not launching something hoping it works,” Jarvis said. “We are testing so we have a very high degree of confidence that it will work.”

Phase Four hired Laura Overly as its supply chain and materials director. She will oversee the firm's global supply chain strategy, seeking to improve delivery time and reduce costs. Credit: Phase Four
Phase Four hired Laura Overly as its supply chain and materials director. She will oversee the firm’s global supply chain strategy, seeking to improve delivery time and reduce costs. Credit: Phase Four

That approach works well for constellation developers who require significant testing and validation before they will consider a system but are “less concerned about the fact our propulsion system hasn’t been on a satellite before,” Jarvis said.

The products Phase Four is developing “fit squarely in terms of specifications and performance into the small satellite realm,” Jarvis said. “We are able to adapt the system to work on satellites smaller than 50 kilograms all the way to larger classes of small satellites that will be part of communications mega-constellations coming online. We are not just going after the nanosatellite or cubesat market.”

To meet the needs of the emerging constellation market, Phase Four plans to offer quality products and speedy delivery, Overly said.  “The targeted lead time is three months from time of order to time of delivery which is unheard of for a propulsion subsystem,” she added.

Overly, who previously worked at Aerojet in Redmond, Washington, and at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s White Sands Test Facility, said the relationships she has cultivated during her career will help her meet the challenge.

While many space companies have reduced their dependence on suppliers in favor of vertical integration, Phase Four is not taking that approach, at least not initially.

“As we go forward and learn more about our customers and our products, that could change,” Overly said. “But for the time being, we are looking for valued partnerships with our suppliers.”