The company’s first space tug, called Orbiter SN1, is seen undergoing final launch preparations.
Space station company Vast announced on Tuesday it has acquired fellow startup Launcher in a move that effectively triples the former’s headcount and expands its suite of tech and IP.
“Building a space station is this complex undertaking, and you need a lot of people to do it,” Vast founder and CEO Jed McCaleb told CNBC. “Just getting the engineers that Launcher has will accelerate [development].”
Vast aims to build human habitats with artificial gravity, a step more ambitious than the existing zero gravity environment of the International Space Station, or of other private stations underway. The Launcher acquisition adds about 80 employees to Vast’s existing staff of 40 and brings with it the company’s Orbiter satellite “space tug” and the E-2 liquid rocket engine that are currently in development.
“The technology that they built – a lot of it is directly applicable for what what we’re going to do, so we don’t have to go and develop it again from scratch,” McCaleb said.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“I can tell you that our investors and our team are happy; it’s a good outcome for both sides,” said Launcher founder Max Haot, who will join Vast as the company’s president.
Headquartered in Long Beach, California, at a 115,000-square-foot facility, Vast was stood up last year by McCaleb, who made his fortune in cryptocurrency. He’s worth about $2.5 billion according to Forbes. Before launching Vast, McCaleb first dipped into the space industry in 2021, joining the board of Firefly Aerospace after an investment through a non-profit he founded called the Astera Institute.
Founder and CEO Jed McCaleb
McCaleb and Haot first met last summer, and Haot spoke to McCaleb about the potential of investing in Launcher, he told CNBC. While Haot has built Launcher since 2017 “with less than $30 million of funding,” he said fundraising was “one of our biggest challenges” and the discussion with McCaleb quickly became centered around M&A.
“We now have far greater resources thanks to Jed,” Haot said.
Vast and Launcher signed the deal on Nov. 10, and the acquisition closed about a week ago.
The recent failure of Launcher’s first Orbiter mission, which achieved some objectives but was unable to deploy the multiple customer satellites onboard, “didn’t factor at all” in the acquisition process, Haot said.
The company expects to fly the next two Orbiter missions this year.
“Ultimately, our goal is a station which is bigger than what Orbiter is, but a lot of the same components and technology are what end up being flown on the station, so you kind of need this platform to test it on,” McCaleb said.
The International Space Station is pictured from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around on Nov. 8, 2021.
While Launcher was developing a small rocket called Light, which the E-2 engine was in testing for, Vast announced that the company will not continue work on the rocket. And, although McCaleb acknowledged the E-2 engine is not something his company would have developed on its own, he said Launcher has made “a ton of progress on that and it seems super valuable, so it’s not something we wanted to shut down.”
For now, McCaleb is the sole funder of Vast as he pursues a long-term goal of building space stations with artificial gravity.
“One of the advantages of having this be self-funded is that we’re not beholden – to not just economic cycles, but just the whims of investors in general,” McCaleb said.
(With inputs from CNBC)