PARIS – Vast Space, a Southern California startup founded by cryptocurrency billionaire Jed McCaleb, plans to establish an artificial-gravity space station in low Earth orbit.
McCaleb envisions a future where millions of people are living throughout the solar system. Since other companies are helping to reduce launch costs, McCaleb thinks the next important step will be creating large structures where people can live and work in space.
“Earth has finite resources, but out in the solar system, there is an enormous untapped wealth, both in terms of energy and matter, that could support many ‘Earths,’” McCaleb told SpaceNews by email. “Likewise, mankind needs a frontier. Every prosperous civilization has had one to push off into – nevertheless, we haven’t had one for some time. Without a frontier, the world becomes a zero-sum game, which is detrimental to the psyche of a civilization. And in terms of the long-term future of humanity, we will need to live off of the Earth eventually.”
McCaleb, whose wealth Forbes pegs at $2.5 billion, initially plans to self-finance Vast’s work.
“I’ve done many software startups and had great success in the crypto world, which gave me enough resources to attempt something ambitious in space,” McCaleb said. “Eventually, we hope to have some form of revenue generation. I’d like Vast to have a usable station in space by that time.”
Over the long term, Vast is likely to seek outside investment. In the near term, though, the company will “focus on the mission and not become beholden to investors,” McCaleb said. “And at some point, we would like to get customers, like NASA or other national programs.”
Vast’s greatest near-term challenge is “building a world-class engineering team that can attack any problem,” McCaleb said. “Vast will live or die on the quality of its engineering team.”
Currently, the company has about 20 employees, including Kyle Dedmon, former SpaceX vice president for construction and facilities; Tom Hayford, a systems engineer who has worked for Relativity Space and SpaceX; Molly McCormick, a former SpaceX human factors engineer and Honeybee Robotics program manager; and Colin Smith, a former SpaceX propulsion engineer. In addition, former SpaceX vice president Hans Koenigsmann is advising the company.
Like other billionaires investing in ambitious space ventures, McCaleb has a longstanding passion for space.
Years ago, McCaleb jokingly told friends,” ‘If I ever have a ton of money, I’m going to mine asteroids.” After founding three successful cryptocurrency firms, McCaleb is focused on solving problems standing in the way of moving people further into the solar system.
Because the longterm health impacts of microgravity can be serious, Vast is focused on creating a large spinning structure that creates a gravity-like pull.
“Vast’s innovations will serve the role of a research platform, which is what the ISS did historically,” McCaleb said. “But we also want to be a machine shop where national and private sector astronauts can iterate and prototype things in orbit. Ultimately, our contributions will enable something akin to a way station for human habitation that orbits the moon – maybe even Mars.”
McCaleb acknowledged the inherent challenges in creating spinning structures, like managing and controlling momentum. In addition, “docking to a spinning module” and communications will be complicated, he said.
Vast faces additional challenges related to transportation and testing.
“The things we are building aren’t road-shippable, so we need access to a seaport or airport for shipping,” McCaleb said. “Likewise, it’s challenging to test our modules without doing it in space – when testing on Earth, we have to contend with Earth’s gravity.”
Still, McCaleb remains committed to creating an artificial-gravity station.
“We still crave new frontiers, with many of us spending our lives anticipating the time when space will be unlocked for us,” McCaleb said in a statement. “By pushing our frontiers and expanding our habitat into the vastness of space, we may actually preserve Earth for thousands of years and generations to come.”