Evolution Space is developing, building and testing small rockets in Mojave, Calif. Credit: Evolution Space

SAN FRANCISCO – Launch startup Evolution Space signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a small satellite constellation for optical communications startup Xenesis.

Under the $120 million deal signed in May, Evolution will conduct five suborbital and 25 orbital launches for Xenesis beginning in 2025.

Mojave, Calif.-based Evolution is taking an iterative approach to developing small solid rockets to deliver 250 to 450 kilograms to low-Earth orbit.

“We focus on simplicity and have no ambitions to build bigger rockets,” Steve Heller, Evolution founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “We are starting with a suborbital platform and using that as a leap pad for an orbital platform.”

A subscale version of Evolution’s suborbital rocket, which will serve as the booster for company’s orbital vehicle, cost the company about $70,000 to build. That rocket reached an altitude of 56,219 meters during tests conducted in Mojave in November.

In May, Evolution conducted further tests of a new suborbital vehicle. That rocket, built in three weeks for less than $50,000, demonstrated improvement in the company’s guidance, navigation and control system, Heller said. Six more launches are scheduled to be completed within the next year.

Evolution, originally called Sugarhouse Aerospace, was founded in Salt Lake City in 2018. Since rebranding one year ago, the company has assembled a staff of 10 people, which it plans to double within a year.

“We’re solid propulsion geeks. We build every piece of our rockets” from the propulsion to starter pellets, Heller said.

The company’s streamlined approach makes it a good fit for the times, since investors are not as eager to back space companies as they were a year ago.

“I think the spend mirrors the market,” Heller said.

Working with Xenesis is helping Evolution refine its rocket development program.

“We’ve been looking for is a customer to tell us exactly what to build,” Heller said. “Is 250 kilograms to low-Earth orbit or is it 400? What’s more important: customizable inclinations or time to launch, because solids are broadly applicable to customers trying to put things up where they want, when they want?”

Founded in 2017, Xenesis plans to establish an optical communications constellation to provide connectivity for mobile network operators, internet service providers and enterprises.

Mark LaPenna, Xenesis founder and CEO, said he’s pleased to be working with Evolution because “these guys represent a paradigm shift in the way we do business in this industry.”

“It’s the rapid iteration,” LaPenna said. “It’s the fail fast, succeed fast mentality that these guys are hammering home. It’s also a high degree of professionalism. They have a build schedule. They’re executing.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...