Meet the space billionaire who’s interested in more than just rockets End-shutdown

Enlarge / An artist’s concept of a large space station with artificial gravity.


There’s a new space billionaire, and this is No interested in launching rockets. His name is Jed McCaleb, an American software developer who made his fortune developing blockchain and cryptocurrency. With last week’s acquisition of a small space company called Launcher, McCaleb has shown that he is serious about building a space station in low-Earth orbit.

McCaleb’s space room company, Vast, went public last fall with a plan to build space stations powered by artificial gravity. This was important because NASA and most other space agencies around the world have spent little time developing artificial gravity systems in space, which may be important to human habitation in the long term due to deleterious effects. microgravity experienced by astronauts in international space. Season. Vast boasted three technical advisers who were major players in SpaceX’s success: Hans Koenigsmann, Will Heltsley, and Yang Li, but they didn’t offer much information about their plans.

It now seems clear that McCaleb is genuinely interested in doing this. McCaleb, an early pioneer in blockchain technology, created Mt. Gox, the first major Bitcoin exchange. Hello’s estimated by Forbes it will be worth $2.5 billion and has promised to invest at least $300 million in Vast Space as it looks to develop space stations.

in spatial focus

The first wave of space billionaires, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and others, were primarily interested in the launch. His first major projects at SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic were to develop space launch systems to lower the cost of access to space. McCaleb said in an interview that it is time for a new generation of space companies to take advantage of the availability of commercial launch options.

So he’s investing in this future. Last week, Vast announced that he had acquired Launcher, a Los Angeles-based space startup that is developing a small rocket engine and orbital tugboat called the Orbiter. This tug was first launched in January on a Falcon 9 rideshare mission, with the intent of carrying a handful of commercial satellites into the desired orbit. However, finally failed due to an orientation control problem caused by a failure in the Orbiter SN1’s GPS antenna system. The company plans to launch its SN2 mission this summer.



Launcher founder Max Haot approached McCaleb last year about investing in Launcher. By this time, McCaleb had put some funds into Firefly and was considering other space investments. However, he soon decided that his best option might be to simply buy Launcher for its technology and workmanship.

“I was really impressed by the team,” McCaleb said. “And what they were building is very much in line with what we needed to build a space station. Obviously, the Orbiter is a very different vehicle, but it has a lot of the same components that we’ll need on the space station, things like flight computers.” . , avionics and CNG are common enough for what we will ultimately need.”

Launcher’s 80 employees will now join Vast’s 40 employees. McCaleb said he was not yet ready to discuss timelines or the architecture of Vast’s proposed line of space stations. The company is still in the engineering phase, carrying out commercial studies that will be taken into account in the final design. But he is committed to having some form of artificial gravity, which he considers essential for long-term healthy human habitation in space.

“Any time you have people in space for a long time, whether it’s orbiting Mars or working on asteroid mining, they want gravity,” he said.

Competing for NASA funding

However, the first iteration of Vast’s space plans will exist in low Earth orbit. As NASA continues to fund the development of commercial space stations in low-Earth orbit (Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman all compete there), Vast intends to pursue some of this funding as well. The company potentially has some advantages in this competition. An artificial gravity station may be attractive to NASA, and McCaleb has deeper pockets than most other companies.

By this I mean you are willing to commit some of your fortune to the concept, while the other companies may have less money available to devote to these ventures and will need to go and raise funds from other investors. Even Blue Origin, backed by Bezos, is likely to be somewhat limited. Three sources have told Ars that while he supports the company’s Orbital Reef Station project, Bezos would prefer that most of the funding come from NASA or other potential customers.

In terms of fundraising, the merger with Vast was a positive development for Haot and Launcher.

“I’m excited to no longer have the fundraising challenge,” Haot said. “I was focusing about 80 percent of my time on that. Now, to be a partner with Jed, I don’t have to worry about that. I have to worry about the challenge of building things. To me, that’s very exciting.” “

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