Artificial gravity habitats now have access to satellite 'space tug'

Space station company Vast's acquisition of startup Launcher will give it access to a space tug to build a permanently habitable space station in low Earth orbit.
John Loeffler
A Launcher space tug in orbit around the Earth
A Launcher space tug in orbit around the Earth


An exciting new space company just got a major boost as Vast, whose mission is to build space stations in low Earth orbit that produce artificial gravity via centrifugal force, acquired Launcher, makers of an innovative 'space tug' utility spacecraft.

Vast's goal is to build a permanently habitable space station in low Earth orbit to replace the International Space Station when it is retired in 2030, though that goal is still some ways off considering the scope of Vast's ambitions. Its plan is to build a space station "many times the volume of the International Space Station" according to a company press release announcing the acquisition.

Launcher, meanwhile, will have its entire 120-person team folded into Vast, with Launcher founder Max Haot joining Vast as the company's new President.

"Our Launcher team jumped at the chance to join [Vast CEO Jed McCaleb's] vision of moving beyond Earth and advancing humanity’s exploration of space," Haot said.

"By joining the Vast team, we are able to work with an incredible team of experienced engineering professionals currently at Vast and further pursue and develop our products and technologies to date, to include our Orbiter space tug and hosted payload products as well as our high-performance staged combustion rocket engine, E-2," Haot added. "Our investors, customers, and partners are also in full support and excited for what’s next."

For Vast, founded in 2021 by Mt. Gox crypto exchange co-creator Jed McCaleb, the acquisition is a major move. Currently, Vast is entirely funded by McCaleb. but with the Orbiter payload tug developed by Launcher, McCaleb hopes to see Vast generate a revenue stream independent of his own financing.

"At that point, you can raise much more money in better terms," McCaleb told TechCrunch. Haot said that Launcher had already signed several customers before the acquisition, with other deals in discussion prior to the acquisition that will presumably be taken on by Vast.

Plans for Vast's artificial-gravity space stations

Artificial gravity habitats now have access to satellite 'space tug'

As it stands, between Vast and Launcher, the Orbiter space tug, which is capable of approaching and departing spacecraft and carrying customer payloads, has only been to orbit once, in early January 2023 — a mission that ended in failure after Orbiter's power system failed.

"We know exactly what went wrong," Haot told TechCrunch. "We were fully operational for the duration of the battery and we fell short of deploying our customers because of a power issue."

"So Vast, Jed and us are actually extremely proud of what was achieved," Haot added. "We have two more flights this year. […] If you think about it, the odds that this is a stable platform by the end of the year are very high.”

Vast's plan is for the Orbiter space tug to help test key systems for Vast's station design that will eventually make their way into an actual habitable space station. The first station Vast plans on sending into space will be a microgravity station like the ISS, but subsequent stations will incorporate artificial gravity for long-term human habitation.

As for further acquisitions, McCaleb doesn't foresee many more in Vast's future. “Acquisitions typically go pretty wrong,” McCaleb said. “For the most part, the combined team now plus a few more folks, we’ll be able to do quite a bit.”

That includes eventually bidding for NASA Commercial low Earth orbit Development funding alongside industry heavyweights Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin. Axiom Space, another space station firm that has already been contracted by NASA received its grant through a separate process.

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