Former Momentus CTO reveals competing space logistics venture

SAN FRANCISCO – TransAstronautica, a startup based by Joel Sercel, the previous Momentus chief know-how officer, is elevating cash for a competing house logistics enterprise.

TransAstra’s marketing strategy begins with transportation for satellites in orbit and extends to refueling rockets with assets harvested from asteroids.

“We’re going to construct the transcontinental railroad of house,” Sercel, the Southern California startup’s founder and CEO, instructed table4. “We’ll make it extra inexpensive to maneuver satellites and payloads from the place they’re in orbit to the place they should go.”

Because it was established in 2015, TransAstra has developed applied sciences to extract water and different uncooked supplies from the moon, planets and asteroids. Earlier than Sercel joined Momentus in early 2019 and once more after he left the corporate on the finish of 2019, TransAstra additionally targeted on applied sciences for the rising house logistics market.

TransAstra’s core know-how is Omnivore, a photo voltaic thermal rocket engine designed to run on water, ammonia, hydrogen and different gas sources. The corporate additionally has patented an invention it calls Optical Mining.

“We use concentrated daylight to fracture the asteroid … whereas concurrently heating the small fragments to a temperature the place they launch their volatiles,” defined Chris Dreyer, engineering director within the Colorado College of Mines Heart for House Assets. Dreyer and Sercel have developed and demonstrated Optical Mining know-how with grants from the NASA Revolutionary Superior Ideas (NIAC) program.

Beneath one other NIAC grant, TransAstra is growing tall energy era stations to deliver photo voltaic vitality to the moon’s shadowed areas. NIAC grants assist “modern, technically credible, superior ideas that might at some point ‘change the attainable’ in aerospace,” Jason Derleth, NASA NIAC program government, stated by e-mail.

“NIAC is concerned about TransAstra’s work as a result of it matches our program’s constitution – if TransAstra have been to achieve its mission of harvesting and using in-situ house assets, then mining them and making them commercially accessible, it’s conceivable that every part about house may change,” Derleth stated. “Having pre-emplaced spacecraft gas or water for people would imply that the outer reaches of our photo voltaic system would turn out to be extra accessible for robotic spacecraft; Mars can be extra accessible to people; and practically all spacecraft may very well be designed do extra science for much less cash.”

After years of quietly growing and testing know-how, Sercel is publicly revealing TransAstra’s ambitions partially as a result of the agency was accepted into the well-known Y Combinator accelerator, whose alumni embrace Relativity House and Momentus. TransAstra is also sharing plans now as a result of “we’re able to launch Omnivore to the market,” Sercel stated.

The timing couldn’t be higher, Sercel stated, due to sturdy investor curiosity within the house sector on the whole and in house logistics particularly.

TransAstra founder and CEO Joel Sercel

Momentus shares started buying and selling Aug. 13 on Nasdaq. D-Orbit, an Italian house logistics firm backed by Seraphim Capital, is anticipated to turn out to be a part of the Seraphim House Funding Belief when it finishes its present fundraising spherical. Different corporations are elevating cash for satellite tv for pc servicing and particles removing ventures.

Is TransAstra providing potential Momentus buyers an alternate? Sercel declined to debate Momentus, saying he has not labored there for greater than a 12 months and a half. He stated, although, that he “has nice affection for the engineering staff and desires all of them the perfect.”

Sercel anticipates booming demand for house logistics providers to offer enterprise for a lot of corporations.

“There are half a dozen launch corporations growing absolutely reusable medium-class techniques that may compete head-to-head with [SpaceX’s] Falcon 9,” Sercel stated. “That is going to trigger a collapse of launch prices and an explosion of companies in low Earth orbit. Low Earth orbit goes to be the place to be beginning at about 2022.”

If all goes as deliberate, TransAstra will start commonly scheduled flights in a pair years of its Employee Bee spacecraft. Employee Bee, an area tug powered by the Omnivore engine, is designed to deal with small satellites on rideshare flights and ship them to customized orbits after a bigger rocket drops them off. Though the primary few Employee Bees shall be expendable, the tug is designed to be refueled at orbiting propellant depots like Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 satellite tv for pc launched June 30.

“We’ll rendezvous with a depot, gas up with that propellant no matter it’s and head off to the subsequent mission,” Sercel stated.

TransAstra’s Omnivore engine may launch, for instance, with water propellant and refuel in orbit with hydrazine or liquid hydrogen.

Employee Bee house tugs are one aspect of TransAstra’s Apis household of flight techniques. The Apis household features a 250-kilogram Mini Bee know-how demonstrator in addition to bigger Honey Bee and Queen Bee spacecraft designed to reap propellant from asteroids.

Investor response thus far has been sturdy. TransAstra is attracting seed funding from non-public wealth administration corporations, enterprise capital and angel buyers.

“Joel has acquired a long time of expertise within the trade, expertise that shall be beneficial in growing this know-how and doing it in a capital-efficient method,” stated Mark Friday, managing director of Houston-based Cathexis Ventures, an investor in TransAstra and Momentus.

Daniel Britt, an astronomy and planetary sciences professor on the College of Central Florida and director of the Heart for Lunar and Asteroid Floor Science, isn’t stunned by investor curiosity in TransAstra.

“There are a good variety of frenzied angel buyers trying to put cash into numerous house useful resource ventures,” stated Britt, a member of TransAstra’s advisory board. To elucidate that frenzy, he pointed to the settlement of North America.

The important thing to permitting the exploration and settlement of North America was not its discovery in 1492, Britt stated, however the drop in transportation prices within the subsequent 100 years. Current declines in the price of house transportation are opening the door to new purposes like house useful resource utilization, which guarantees to additional minimize transportation prices, he added.

“Persons are beginning to get since you’re on the cusp of revolutionizing the entire house enterprise,” Britt stated. “When you have a look at it from a historic standpoint, the possibility to be on the bottom flooring of one thing like that’s fairly engaging.”

Robert Jedicke of the College of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, one other member of TransAstra’s advisory board, sees parallels between the agency’s work and the primary American transcontinental railroad. Previous to its building, the journey throughout the nation took “two months, on grime roads, by streams and rivers, with no fuel stations alongside the way in which,” Jedicke stated by e-mail. As soon as the railroad was accomplished, roads and repair stations adopted shortly.

“Now we’ve an identical state of affairs the place it is perhaps imagined that a number of the obstacles are tough, getting off Earth, vacuum, warmth, chilly, however we’re vastly extra superior in our capabilities,” Jedicke stated. “I completely imagine that overcoming the hurdles to populating cislunar house and growing a space-based financial system, maybe with water as its transportation gas supply, is a matter of convergence.”

For proof that the required elements are coming collectively, Jedicke pointed to ongoing work by corporations like SpaceX and Blue Origin in addition to authorities companies to ascertain a “vibrant space-based financial system.”

“It simply requires visionaries, funding and serendipity,” Jedicke stated.

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