Startup Phantom Space wants to go into upstream orbit

Cantrell’s last focus is Phantom SpaceOne in a sea of ​​new startups seeking to take advantage of an explosion of smaller and cheaper satellite designs and build missiles that can meet the growing demand for launching these payloads into orbit. But as in the training course with Cantrell, the Phantom tries to achieve success by swimming against the tide.

One of the most important trends in the field of missiles at the moment is Ride-sharing launchWhere customers purchase available locations for their payloads on a medium or large missile with a specified departure date. This is usually a cheaper way than individual launches for customers to get a payload in space – with SpaceX’s ride-sharing program, it costs $ 1 million to launch a 200-kilogram payload (the Falcon 9 missile can take a total of 22,800 kg in low Earth orbit). The company launched a ride-sharing mission on January 21, when it deployed 143 satellites into orbit. She is pursuing a similar mission in June. In a surprise turnaround in March, the Rocket Lab, which had long resisted the idea of ​​building larger rockets, unveiled the neutron With the specific purpose of launching engagement trips It competes with SpaceX Falcon 9.

Ride-on Arrows aren’t a Phantom Teacup. The company wants to create its space footprint through mass manufacturing of small rockets and a hundred year launch. “We want to be Henry Ford in space,” Cantrell says. “We hold a conflicting view of how to develop this.” Just as Henry Ford didn’t reinvent the car but the way it was built, the Phantom is no longer reinventing rockets – just producing them.

How is that? When SpaceX started, the airline supply chains going into orbit were implicated in the US Department of Defense financial system. To stay independent of this system, SpaceX decided to build everything on its own, relying on Musk’s fortune and tons of investment to stay afloat during years of losses. It was a long-running gamble that paid off.

But the Phantom founders decided they didn’t need to follow suit. Even in just the last five years, aviation supply chains have become more flexible and competitive, which means that the Phantom can only purchase the specific parts they want instead of building everything from scratch. She buys 3D printed engines from Ursa Major, Colorado. The flight computer design has been licensed by NASA, and it uses an BeagleBone Blackboard That some distributors sell for around $ 50. Other components, such as batteries and telemetry systems, are purchased through the missile defense system supply chain.

The Henry Ford likeness is not just ambitious – it’s a model for the company. Co-founder Michael D’Angelo says the auto and missile businesses follow similar growth curves: doubling production leads to certain economies of scale that are also associated with greater efficiency and fewer production errors. Computers and mobile devices have followed a similar path. He argues that nowadays supply chains are mature enough to allow the kind of rapid manufacturing that the Phantom wants.

At the moment, the company is pursuing two types of missiles. There is a Daytona that is 18.7 meters high, which should be able to lift about 450 kilograms in space. That may be on the larger end of what might be called the small rocket class, but according to Cantrell, the company’s analysis estimates that this size is the optimal size for profitable business. Then there is the Laguna, a 20.5-meter missile that can lift payloads of up to 1,200 kilograms. Phantom is developing a version of the Laguna with a reusable booster first stage, such as SpaceX Falcon 9 (with a similar vertical landing operation).

An artist showed a Daytona missile flying in space.

Phantom Space

The Phantom hopes to fill a gap in the market. While ride-on stocks are cheap, customers have less control over how the task of riding a shared ride, like a train, is on a steady road. If you want the satellite to go in a different orbit or path, you need to install expensive propulsion engines that can go there. Otherwise, you have to redesign its function for the new orbit, carry a less suitable orbit, or simply purchase a ticket for a different mission. And you’d better hope that your satellite can accommodate all the other payloads it will accompany – these flights are fully booked.

Launching a small missile might cost more, but it returns control to the customer. If you have a mission with very specific requirements – like replacing a specific satellite in a constellation, launching sensitive equipment, or running an expensive tech show – you probably want a custom flight rather than a flight sharing. “There is definitely interest and demand for launching these small rockets,” says Ryan Martineau, a space systems engineer at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah.

Cantrell believes the Phantom can fulfill this demand without blasting its budget. It is estimated that the company’s approach could actually offer launches for a third of the price of the ride-sharing model.

First, though, the company really does have to access the space. The goal is for Daytona to make its first space flight in 2023. Classically speaking, Cantrell says there is a 50% reliability rate for the first four flights of a new missile. Phantom’s plans more or less assume that at least one of its first four flights will be in orbit. She recently signed an Air Force lease for the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is currently looking for permission to take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida – critical first steps if launching 100 times a year is really a goal.

Phantom also wants to build satellites and become a thing of a one-stop shop for customers. Its acquisition of StratSpace from Cantrell this week should be a major part of this aspect of the business. The company is working on prototypes of a constellation for clients and is part of a group developing a $ 1.2 billion commercially funded science mission (specific details will not be revealed for several months). It runs quietly on a communications network called Phantom Cloud, which is essentially a mesh network that other satellites can use to communicate with each other or with systems on the surface. Cantrell calls it “a satellite Internet of space.”

In fact, Phantom doesn’t exactly need to beat SpaceX and the other big rocket makers – it just needs to hold it. “As the small player market matures, I think you will see a diverse group of customers taking advantage of this potential,” says Martineau. “I think it is very unlikely that one will become dominant and outperform the other.”

The symbiosis is good, Cantrell says: “We recognize that SpaceX has exquisitely developed the reusable large space transportation system, but we think this is just one of at least two – and possibly more – fundamentally different economic systems in the space transportation ecosystem. ” He hopes Phantom will be the leader in the other.

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