Phantom Space orders more than 200 rocket engines from Ursa Major

Hadley engine from Ursa Major

Capitalism in space: The smallsat startup rocket company Phantom Space today announced it has ordered more than 200 rocket engines from the rocket engine company Ursa Major.

The order includes Ursa Major’s 5,000-Pound Thrust Hadley engines and the new 50,000-pound thrust Ripley engines. By using Ursa Major’s Hadley engines, Phantom’s Daytona rocket is slated for orbital launch in 2023, just three years after Phantom Space was formed. Under the terms of the agreement, Ursa Major will supply hundreds of its Hadley engines in different configurations including ground test and upper-stage vacuum variants, as well as numerous Ripley engines for planned upgrades to the Daytona vehicle.

The CEO of Phantom Space, Jim Cantrell, gave me a tour of its facility here in Tucson only three weeks ago, during which I took the picture above of a Hadley engine being tested and prepared for further static fire tests.

Cantrell had been the founder of Vector, his earlier failed attempt to create a smallsat rocket company. He clearly has not let that failure stop him.

A tour at rocket startup Phantom Space

Jim Cantrell at Phantom

Creating a new rocket company is not something anyone can do. Nor is it something that even smart people can do, nonchalantly. The history of rocketry is littered with hundreds of attempts, almost all of which failed.

Jim Cantrell, pictured on the right standing next to one of the first test prototypes for a new rocket being made by his new company, Phantom Space, is one such person. In the mid-2010s Cantrell partnered with a number of others to found the company Vector, hoping to be one of the first smallsat rocket companies to launch a cheap and efficient rocket placing tiny satellites into orbit. At the time, Cantrell and Vector were racing neck and neck with Rocket Lab for the honor of being the first to do so.

While Rocket Lab succeeded in 2018, and has since completed more than twenty launches, Vector ended up on the ash heap of history, going bankrupt in 2019. The company’s failure was mostly due to problems with its rocket engine, which in turn caused one of its major investors to back out.

Cantrell however is apparently someone who does not take defeat quietly. Using what he had learned at Vector, in 2021 he started a new rocket company, Phantom Space, with a target date for its first test launch the summer of 2023.

Today Cantrell gave me a quick tour of Phantom’s operations here in Tucson.
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Phantom Space raises $5 million in investment capital

Rising from the ashes: Phantom Space, the new startup smallsat rocket company created by Jim Cantrell, the former CEO of the smallsat rocket company Vector, has now successfully raised $5 million in seed money to begin development of its rocket, dubbed Daytona.

The expendable Daytona will be powered by eight Hadley engines — seven on the first stage and one on the upper stage. The engines are an example of Phantom Space’s strategy of leveraging externally developed tech; Hadleys are built by Denver-based company Ursa Major Technologies.

According to my sources, the reason Vector never flew and Cantrell and the company parted ways was that the engines they were building for the rocket ended up under-powered. It seems Cantrell has taken a different approach with his new startup by buying engines from an outside source instead of building them in house.