ORLANDO — Vast, a startup developing artificial-gravity space stations, announced Feb. 21 that it acquired launch services company Launcher, using its technology to further space station plans while ending developing of a small launch vehicle.
Vast announced it acquired Launcher for an undisclosed amount. The two companies, which currently have separate facilities in Southern California, will move into a new facility in Long Beach, California, this summer that Vast announced it January it would relocate to.
Launcher’s workforce of about 80 people will join Vast’s 40 employees in the combined company. Max Haot, founder and chief executive of Launcher, will become president of Vast.
Jed McCaleb, founder and chief executive of Vast, said in an interview that discussions with Haot started about nine months ago. “I was immediately impressed with what they did on a scrappy budget,” he said. “It became apparent to me we would be a stronger company together.”
Haot said in the interview the discussions first focused on securing an investment in Launcher. It later became clear, though, that an acquisition made sense. “We could be a really great option to help them go to the next level,” he said. “It removed a lot of risk for us for fundraising.” The companies signed the acquisition deal in November, which closed earlier in the month.
The combined company will continue development of Orbiter, the orbital transfer vehicle that Launcher developed. The first Launcher flew on the Transporter-6 rideshare mission in January but malfunctioned shortly after deployment when a GPS antenna problem kept it from orienting itself to generate power from its solar panels. The company plays to fly additional Orbiters on two Transporter missions later this year.
Those Transporter missions will continue to serve customers seeking hosted payload or satellite deployment services, but will also support Vast’s space station plans. That includes flying technologies being developed by Vast for use on the stations, such as thrusters and life support systems, as well as various subsystems of Orbiter itself that Haot said will evolve over time for use on space stations.
Vast will also continue development of the E-2 rocket engine that Launcher had been working on for use on its Launcher Light rocket. Haot expects there to be demand for a high-performance engine like the E-2, which he claims has the highest performance kerosene turbopump developed in the United States.
“Companies are suffering from a lack of engine performance to achieve their advertised payload,” he said. The E-2 engine, he argued, “it is becoming more relevant, not less, which is why we see significant value in trying to complete and sell it.”
However, Vast will not continue with Launcher Light. “We have to focus,” Haot said.
Vast announced plans in September to develop large rotating space stations that would generate artificial gravity, but has disclosed few details about its plans. Haot, who as president will oversee work on those stations, said the company would release a “more concrete plan” in the near future. “There will be many stepping stones.”
McCaleb, a cryptocurrency billionaire, is self-funding Vast through its initial phases of development. “I want to keep it self-funded until we have a station in space and a clear path to revenue,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I am beholden to investors.” He has not announced how much he plans to invest, but said in the interview it would be on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.