Having It All Come Together, but Not In House: Phantom Space’s Approach to Launch

Illustration of Daytona rocket launch. (Credit: Phantom Space)

By David Bullock
Staff Writer

As companies like Astra Space and Virgin Orbit seek a steady stream of orbital payload customers that will bring in profits, there is another company that plans to launch its Daytona rocket for the first time in 2023. Phantom Space, run by CEO Jim Cantrell, already has customers lined up for future orbital launches like its peers.

Cantrell founded the company in 2019 with Mike D’Angelo The creation of the new company came after Cantrell’s previous venture, Vector Space, went bankrupt. 

Phantom Space has raised $26 million from several seed rounds and a series A, but Cantrell said he chooses not to give too much publicity for these capital raising announcements.

Jim Cantrell (Credit: Phantom Space)

As one of the first former SpaceX employees, Cantrell wanted to fulfill the mission of what was supposed to be done with SpaceX and its original small-satellite launcher, Falcon 1. He wanted to make space an every-day event, not just one of those “celebrated occurrences.”

Cantrell and D’Angelo were able to forecast success based on market research. The company sized its Daytona rocket based on data acquired from the space commerce side of the smallSat revolution. 

“Satellite capability became naturally paired with our launch,” Cantrell said.

Illustration of Daytona stage separation. (Credit: Phantom Space)

The company’s first rocket, Daytona, will be 18.7 meters (61.4 ft) in height with a diameter of 1.25 meters (4.1 ft). The booster is designed to launch 450 kg (992 lb) into low Earth orbit, 160 kg (353 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), or 50 kg (110 lb) to the moon. A dedicated launch will cost $4 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020 was a factor in the company’s development in a positive way. Instead of trying to develop everything in house as SpaceX does, Phantom Space looked at the supply chain to see what it had to offer.

“This effort saved us $100 million that we wouldn’t have to raise,” Cantrell said.

Hadley engine test (Credit: Ursa Major)

Phantom Space is sourcing Daytona’s rocket engines from Ursa Major.

“Phantom is a partner of ours [and] are using our Hadley engines,” said Ursa Major CEO Joe Laurienti. “Being an engine focused company, we knew we had to focus on differentiating at the top end of engine capabilities.”

Joe Laurienti (Credit: Ursa Major)

Daytona’s first stage will have seven Hadley engines with 5,000 lb of thrust powered by oxygen and kerosene. The second stage will be powered by a single vacuum optimized Hadley engine.

Laurienti said Ursa Major has used 3D printing to increase the Hadley engine’s performance while reducing production costs. The added efficiency has allowed Ursa Major to “beat others to market,” he added. 

Phantom Space has bought more than two hundred Hadley engines throughout the past few years. However, Ursa Major has been delivering less than that number at this point, as Phantom awaits to make its first launch in 2023. 

Ursa Major will also supply engines for Phantom Space’s larger two-stage booster, Laguna. Three Ripley engines will power the first stage with a vacuum-optimized Hadley engine in the second.

Laguna will be 20.5 meters (67.3 ft) in height with a diameter of 2 m (6.6 ft). The booster is designed to launch 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) into low Earth orbit, 425 kg (937 lb) to GTO, 200 kg (441 lb) to the moon, or 100 kg (220 lb) to Mars. Laguna’s reusable first stage will feature aerodynamic control flaps and hydraulic landing legs for recovery. A dedicated launch will cost $8 million.

Two of Phantom Space’s customers are constellation operators. It also has another number of launch service agreements, including one with NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program.

Although Phantom is focused on orbital launch services, it also has a contract to build a radar satellite. Cantrell said the the contact helped the company to be cash-flow positive in its first year. The company has made $9 million over the past two-and-half years, he added.