The race is on to democratize the rocket-launch industry, and Phantom Space Corp, a roughly two-year-old startup, continued its warp-speed flight toward that goal Tuesday, announcing the acquisition of StratSpace, a major U.S. aerospace firm.
For roughly two decades, the Tucson, Ariz.-based StratSpace has been engineering space hardware, in addition to forecasting space markets, consulting and fundraising for extraterrestrial projects.
Phantom says the deal will give it control of the first 100% U.S.-based supply chain for small and medium satellites in its effort to mass produce rockets on a scale not yet seen outside of science fiction.
"[Co-founder Jim Cantrell] likes to say that we'd like to be the Henry Ford of the space industry," fellow co-founder and CDO Michal Prywata told FOX Business. "I like to say that we're trying to create one of the fastest space programs that the world's ever seen. And in order to do that, you have to be, to some extent, aggressive."
Phantom hopes to launch its first orbital mission in 2022 or 2023 and has been cutting costs and saving time on research and development by securing access to existing tech.
As Cantrell put it last month, "What’s out there that we could buy? ... Like the automotive industry, [it’s] a good starting point, rather than having to reinvent everything."
To that end, the Phantom’s Daytona rockets will be powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene engines from the Denver-based Ursa Major, saving $50 million and five years in development.
Cantrell, a former SpaceX executive and longtime rocketeer, had founded StratSpace as Strategic Space Development in the early 2000s.
Prywata declined to disclose a price tag on the StratSpace acquisition but said it was an all-stock deal that brought the company back into the fold.
"People are starting to take notice that maybe our stock is worth something as we continue to prove ourselves," he said.
He added that Phantom is already involved in negotiations for additional acquisitions.
"We’re looking at a number of acquisitions actively right now to achieve that goal of building this overall infrastructure from A to Z," he said. "We'd like to be the first, or one of the first, companies that has this kind of full spectrum of space services."
The startup plans to become a global leader in rocket launches ahead of an expected boom in satellite launches over the next decade, and the company says its rapid growth represents "a hyperscale trajectory."
That full range of services would include mass rocket launches to the tune of hundreds per year in addition to building satellites, rockets and other spacecraft. Longer-term goals include orbital transportation for parcels and people and unmanned and manned interplanetary missions.
"We have some pretty lofty goals of getting to space very quickly, but also just creating this ecosystem around us and this overall infrastructure that can really bring down the barriers of access to space from start to finish," Prywata said.
With StratSpace’s work on solar sail projects, including Lightsail 1 and 2 and the Cosmos-1 mission, future possibilities include fast-moving space flights powered by a renewable energy source.
Phantom announced $5 million in seed funding last month and was hoping to raise another $50 million. This week, the firm announced $100 million in revenue from pre-sold launches and satellite contracts, showing traction as it dives into the fast-growing market of commercial rocket launches.
Earlier this month, as China’s Long March 5B rocket was descending toward the surface for a potentially dangerous uncontrolled reentry, space expert Greg Autry warned that China’s government-subsidized industry was aiming to destabilize American startups with lax safety standards and unfair low prices.
But he also noted that the space industry is different from others that government-backed Chinese firms have been able to disrupt – because of government contracting rules and stringent quality control efforts.
That, along with Phantom’s goal of mass producing rockets at an industrial scale to rival Ford’s breakthroughs in car making 100 years ago, will give the U.S. startup a competitive price advantage, Prywata said.
"We want to be very much involved in pushing the boundaries forward of just the human capability in general and the pursuit of becoming a multiplanetary species," Prywata said. "People should keep watching us because we're moving really, really quickly."