Hundreds of rocket engines produced by startup Ursa Major will be donated to space company Phantom Space over the next few years, part of a major order reflecting Phantom’s bullish stance in the small launch market.
“We placed the order based on how far we could see demand, and we believe demand is pretty strong and growing,” Phantom co-founder Jim Cantrell told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “We are investing our money in small-scale production of mass-produced launchers as both a more cost-effective and ultimately more efficient way to put small satellites into orbit.”
Phantom has placed an order for more than 200 engines with Colorado-based Ursa, in what is the startup’s largest single order to date. Ursa developed two engines, the 5,000 lb thrust Hadley and the larger 50,000 lb thrust Ripley. Phantom purchased both types of engines for two types of missiles under development, called Daytona and Laguna. If all goes according to plan, Phantom expects the first batch of these engines to fly as early as next year, along with the first test flight of the small two-stage Daytona.
Cantrell was the co-founder and CEO of Vector, a small start-up company that went bankrupt in 2019. Cantrell parted ways with the company shortly before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; that same year he founded Phantom with Michael D’Angelo and Michal Privata.
The three founders “were looking at who could supply the engines or we could build them ourselves,” Cantrell explained. “We quickly came to the conclusion that doing it ourselves might be attractive from an intellectual property standpoint, but it’s five years and $50 million I estimated that I would need to put together over time, and the time that we would have to take.”
Both Phantom and Ursa represent a different approach to the launch market, one that relies more on stable supply chains, mass production, and a horizontal ecosystem rather than the vertical integration of the aerospace industry. Joe Laurienti, who founded Ursa in 2015, has previously worked on engines at both SpaceX and Blue Origin, two prime examples of New Space’s vertical integration that Ursa and Phantom avoid.
Ursa plans to deliver 30 engines this year. Laurienti said the company’s focus this year and next is on reliability and productivity as it expands production to meet these large customer orders.
“We want to make sure we don’t just ship the engines to the Phantom team in Arizona, dust off our hands and go back to Colorado,” he added. “A lot of what we need to focus on is data integration and analytics, so it’s really a sustainable partnership and not just a vendor-customer relationship.”
Phantom has already received the first batch of Hadley vehicles. It is these engines that will be integrated with Daytona for fire testing in New Mexico in the summer. The Daytona is designed to lift 450 kg into low Earth orbit; its larger reusable sister, Laguna, will be able to lift 1200 kg of cargo to LEO. The first version of the Daytona will use 9 Hadley engines, although the Phantom is already planning an upgrade to power a future variant with only one Ripley. The company said the Laguna will be powered by a combination of Hadley and Ripleys engines.
Credit: techcrunch.com /