Tag Archives: Vector

Vector loses Air Force contract

Vector has withdrawn from an Air Force launch contract, allowing the military to reassign the contract to another new launch startup, Aevum.

The Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 space lift mission had been originally awarded to Vector Launch Aug. 7. But Vector formally withdrew Aug. 26 in the wake of financial difficulties that forced the company to suspend operations and halt development of its Vector-R small launch vehicle.

The Rocket Systems Launch Program — part of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise — used a Federal Acquisition Regulation “simplified acquisition procedure” to expedite another agreement with a different contractor, the Air Force said in a news release. Aevum’s contract is $1.5 million higher than the one that had been awarded to Vector.

The full scope of Vector’s problems still remain unclear. My industry sources tell me that there was absolutely no malfeasance at all behind the resignation of former CEO Jim Cantrell. From what I can gather, the problems appear to stem from issues of engineering with their rocket, combined with an investor pull-back due to those problems.

Either way, Vector is no longer among the leaders in the new smallsat launch industry, and in fact appears to be fading fast.

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Vector changes CEO, might have money issues

Capitalism in space: Jim Cantrell, who had been the CEO of smallsat rocket company Vector Launch since inception, has apparently left the company.

Vector, a micro-launch company founded in 2016 to build small rockets for payloads of up to 60kg, may be in financial trouble, multiple industry sources told Ars on Friday. A spokeswoman for Vector did not comment on that. However, she did confirm the company has parted ways with its chief executive: “Jim Cantrell is no longer with Vector effective today. John Garvey has assumed the role of CEO.”

I wish this story wasn’t so, though I also admit my instincts were telling me things were going sour with the continuing delays in their test launch schedule.

Jim Cantrell was an unusual CEO, always available and open. He generously took me on personal tours of Vector facilities, twice, first in March 2017 and again in January 2019. I wish him well in whatever future endeavors he undetakes.

As for Vector, they need to get off the ground. They had had a substantial head start over many of the other new smallsat rocket companies, but that lead has now evaporated.

More information here. It appears one of their major investors might have pulled out. It also appears they have temporarily suspended operations, shuttering their offices.

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Vector gets Air Force launch contract

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed its first Air Force launch contract for an orbital cubesat launch in 2021.

The Air Force must know something about Vector’s rocket development that we don’t. The company had planned a suborbital test launch for March/April, delayed it until June, and has still not flown it. These delays put the company behind its original launch schedule by a considerable amount, which originally had called for its first orbital launch in 2018.

Hopefully we shall soon see some actually progress from Vector. At the moment however their lack of launches has allowed a number of other smallsat rocket companies to gain on them from behind.

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Vector delays next test launch until June

Capitalism in space: Vector Launch has now delayed its next suborbital test launch three months to June.

Previously they had hoped to get this suborbital test launched in March/April. The company has not set any firm date in June, and cautions that further delays should not be unexpected. Assuming this suborbital launch happens this summer, they then hope to get their first orbital rocket launched by the end of the year.

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Making smallsat rockets at Vector

Payload structure for Vector's Vector-R rocket

In the coming year we should see the spectacular first launches from two smallsat rocket companies, Vector and Virgin Orbit, joining Rocket Lab (which has already launched successfully three times) to form an entirely new industry of small rockets designed specifically for launching cubesat and nanosat satellites, what I call smallsats.

The image on the right shows the payload adapter fitting for Vector’s Vector-R rocket. The red and silver rectangular objects are dummy cubesat payloads. Overall, this structure, only about three feet high, will allow Vector to place as many as eight smallsats into orbit on one launch.

The picture was taken yesterday during a tour of Vector’s facilities given to me personally by Vector’s CEO, Jim Cantrell. During my previous tour of Vector back in March 2017, Cantrell had described the company’s planned test launch schedule as follows:

The company is presently in the testing phase leading up to their first orbital launches, which they hope to start in 2018. Right now they are building a series of full scale versions of their Vector-R rocket with a dummy second stage. The idea is to do a string of suborbital test flights, the first of which will fly in about a week from Mohave in California, with the second flying from the Georgia spaceport in Camden County.

The first two launches occurred as promised, first in Mojave on May 3, 2017 and then in Georgia on August 3, 2017. An announcement in October 2017 set the launch of the third test first for January 2018 but that launch did not happen. In March 2018 Vector announced it planned to launch two cubesats into orbit from Alaska by the end of 2018, but this did not happen either.

Because of the delays, with no explanation, I was beginning to harbor doubts about the company’s status. Last week Cantrell gave a talk at Tucson’s Space Business Roundtable, and I went to that talk to find out what the issues were as well as attempt to find out when they did plan to launch.

Cantrell not only filled me in on the details, but generously offered to give me another personal tour of Vector’s facilities, which had grown significantly since my 2017 tour. Then, Vector employed only thirty people and was based in a small warehouse. Now it employs more than 150, and has two much larger facilities in Tucson as well as one in California (where its mission control is based).

First let me outline the company’s launch status.
» Read more

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Vector applies for license for launch in Kodiak, Alaska

Capitalism in space: Vector has applied for an FAA license for a suborbital test launch in Kodiak, Alaska of its Vector-R smallsat rocket.

The launch is planned to occur no later than April 2019.

Their original suborbital test schedule was supposed to have occurred already, but those were mere verbal announcements. This is more concrete.

Vector does need to get off the ground however. Two years ago it was considered in a close race with Rocket Lab. Now Rocket Lab has pulled far ahead, and Vector might be losing ground to other smallsat launch companies.

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Vector raises $70 million more in investment capital

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Vector has successfully raised an additional $70 million in investment capital.

The increased funds bodes well for the company, but I am becoming increasingly concerned the company is more sizzle than steak. From the article:

With this round of funding, Vector plans to expand its sales and marketing teams. And the goal is to double its footprint in Silicon Valley. Vector is also expecting to break ground on a new state-of-the-art factory in Tucson. And Vector is advancing towards a first orbital attempt set to take place from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska soon.

Their original plan was to complete five test launches leading up to their first orbital try. Only two of those launches have flown, and it appears they are aiming to make the third launch orbital, with no clear schedule indicated. More significantly, it appears that they are not using the additional money for rocket development but for “sales and marketing.” Shouldn’t that come after the rocket is operational?

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Vector plans first orbital flight this October

Capitalism in space: Smallsat rocket company Vector now plans its first orbital flight this coming October, and also plans to have a commercial payload on board.

The article also states that the company already has launch contracts for almost 400 launches.

This story, consistent with a previous report in March, suggests that their build toward that first orbital launch is holding to its schedule.

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DARPA announces $10 million launch challenge for smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: DARPA yesterday announced a new launch challenge competition for smallsat rocket companies, with prizes of $10, $9, and $8 million for first, second, and third prizes, respectively.

Contest rules call for teams to be given the full details about where and when they’ll launch, what kind of payload they’ll launch, plus what kind of orbit the payload should be launched into, only a couple of weeks in advance. And that’s just half the job. Teams will be required to execute another launch, from a different site, no more than a couple of weeks later.

The precise time frames for giving advance notice are still under discussion, but “I would measure the time scale in days,” Todd Master, program manager for the challenge at DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told reporters today.

Considering that we right now already have at least two smallsat rocket companies, Rocket Lab and Vector, on the verge of doing exactly this, without the need of government money, with a slew of other companies to soon follow, I wonder why DARPA is proposing this competition. It seems somewhat irrelevant at this point, making me wonder if its real purpose is not to encourage rocket development but to find a clever way to hand some government cash to these specific companies.

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Vector to launch two cubesats from Alaska later this year

Vector yesterday announced that it plans to complete its first orbital launch from Alaska later this year, placing two commercial cubesats in orbit.

Their original plans had been to do five suborbital test flights, each pushing closer to orbital, with the last possibly reaching orbit. They’ve so far completed two of these five launches. Now it appears they are bypassing the last three test launches and are going straight to orbit on their next launch, and are pitching it as an operational commercial flight. I hope they have their engineering together. I also wonder if it might be wiser to do what Rocket Lab did, which is to tout its first orbital attempts as tests, and only tests, to lower expectations. That made them look good when the second test reached orbit successfully.

The change of plans might also be because Vector is feeling the competition pressure from Rocket Lab and the numerous other smallsat rocket companies that appear to be coming out of the woodwork. They need to get operational to put themselves in the forefront of this new launch industry.

Once again, I hope they have their engineering together. It would be a shame to screw up merely because they pushed things too much, when they right now are ahead of most other smallsat rocket companies.

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Vector gets new contract for five launches

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed a contract with nanosat company Open Cosmos, which has reserved five launches from 2019 to 2023.

The most interesting tidbit in this press release was where it says that Vector is planning its first orbital launch of its Vector-R rocket in July. According to the plans their CEO Jim Cantrell had described to me when he gave me a tour of their facility in March 2017, they were going to do five suborbital test launches before doing an orbital flight. So far they have done two of these. Either they plan to do the remaining three in the next six months, or are going to go orbital sooner than originally planned.

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Vector gets launch contract

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Vector has signed a launch contract with Astro Digital.

Vector, a nanosatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, today announced that it will join forces with Astro Digital, a leader in real-time satellite imagery data, to conduct a dedicated launch in 2018 featuring one of Astro Digital’s satellites for remote sensing applications. Astro Digital plans to engage Vector to launch at least twelve such satellites as part of a larger constellation, with an option to then continue operations at a pace of two to four dedicated satellite launches per year.

The press release notes that Astro Digital flew a test payload on Vector’s suborbital test flight on one of Vector’s two test flights, and that experience convinced the company to sign this new contract.

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Vector picks construction team for building its rocket factory

Capitalism in space:The new smallsat rocket company Vector has chosen the construction companies whom will build its Tucson rocket factory.

While the company is still only two test flights into a planned five test flight suborbital program leading to its first orbital flight, these construction deals indicate the company’s strong investment situation.

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Vector makes deal to launch from Vandenberg

Capitalism in space: Smallsat rocket company Vector has made a deal with Harris Corporation to use its launch facilities at Vandenberg in California for future launches.

Vector now has arrangements to launch its rockets from Kennedy, from Wallops Island, from Alaska, from the new spaceport in Georgia, and now from Vandenberg. With the rocket designed small enough for easy transportation by truck around the country, this will give them the ability to reach a large variety of orbits while also maintaining a fast launch rate.

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Vector’s third suborbital test flight set for January 2018

Capitalism in space: The third suborbital test flight of Vector’s Vector-R rocket has been scheduled for January 2018 in Mohave.

Vector has, to date, performed two test flights of the Vector, both only to very low altitudes. The first took place in May in California’s Mojave Desert and the second in August at the future site of Spaceport Camden on Georgia’s Atlantic coast. A third test, [company head Jim] Cantrell said, is planned for January, back in the Mojave Desert.

He raised a note of caution about that test. “We have a high chance of planting that one in the desert, because it’s using thrust vector control. We’re taking the training wheels off,” he said.

The article is mostly about Vector’s deal to launch from Wallops Island, which I noted last week. Much of that however is public relations that is far from reality. The important thing now is for Vector to finish its test program and prove its rocket can reach orbit.

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Vector signs deal to launch from Wallops

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia to do commercial launches of its smallsat rocket there.

Vector Space Systems officials and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced during a demonstration of the Vector-R launch vehicle at Launch Pad 0-B on Wallops Island that Vector has contracted to conduct three commercial orbital missions in the next two years from the Wallops spaceport, with an option for five additional launches.

Vector still needs to complete its test program, as its Vector-R rocket has not yet reached orbit.

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Vector live streaming test launch

Capialism in space: If you want to watch today’s test launch by Vector, the company is live streaming the event.

As I post, the rocket is vertical in a small clearing surrounded by woods, with a small group of workers at its base.

Update: One minute to launch.

Update: Launch at 9:25 am. The rocket cleared the tower perfectly. We will have to wait for updates from the company to see how things went beyond that.

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Vector obtains $21 million in funding

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Vector has obtained $21 million in new funding, making it possible for it to accelerate its test rocket schedule.

With this most recent round of funding, Vector will accelerate the company’s upcoming flight test series and launch orbital customer missions in early 2018. Vector’s next launch is planned for Summer 2017, making it the first launch ever from the historic Spaceport Camden in Georgia, where NASA tested rocket engines in the 1960s. In addition to flight test launch activities, Vector plans to develop its first GalacticSky satellites and break ground on a world-class rocket factory in Pima County, Arizona.

It seems that the smallsat market is going to get very crowded in the next few years. As much as I am in favor of this, we must also recognize that it is likely that the market will not be able to support all the companies now pushing to grab that business. Some are going to fail, though I have no idea at this point which companies that will be.

Not that this is a bad thing. Competition requires many companies. It also requires failure, balanced with much success.

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Vector suborbital rocket test scrubbed

A suborbital test flight of Vector’s orbital rocket was scrubbed on April 6 when a sensor aborted the launch.

The next test flight is scheduled for May 3, after a test April 6 at the company’s test site near the Mohave Desert was scrubbed when a sensor caused an automatic abort, Cantrell said.

Engineers quickly determined the rocket was functional but the company decided not to launch after high winds kicked up. But the rocket is fine, he said, adding that failures are part of the testing process. “We blew a lot of stuff up, trust me,” he said.

The article is more focused on describing in detail the company’s overall status, its fund-raising effort, its future plans, its present operation. This tidbit about the test launch was buried in it. That the flight didn’t fly is not a bad mark on the company, at this point. However, they are under pressure to fly as soon as possible in order to demonstrate success, and delays work against them.

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Vector Space Systems to open Tucson facility

The competition heats up: Vector Space Systems has decided to build a rocket manufacturing facility in Tucson.

The Tucson-based company is expected to create 200 jobs locally within three years of beginning operations, at an average annual salary of $70,000. It could employ as many as 500 people within five years as production ramps up, said its co-founder and CEO, Jim Cantrell. Vector plans to invest roughly $19 million during the first three years, and possibly as much as $50 million over the next 15 years, according to Pima County officials. The total direct economic impact of the facility could be $290 million over five years, says an analysis by Phoenix-based Applied Economics completed for Sun Corridor Inc., the local economic-development agency. The company plans to build 36,000 square feet of office space and another 40,000 square feet for manufacturing south of Tucson International Airport.

The company already has several million in smallsat launch contracts, plus options for $160 million more once they begin producing rockets.

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New smallsat rocket company obtains financing

The competition heats up: A new rocket company, Vector Space Systems, has announced that it has obtained seed money to begin the development of a new rocket for launch very small satellites.

Vector is designed to provide dedicated launches of very small spacecraft. The vehicle is capable of placing satellites weighing up to 45 kilograms into a basic low Earth orbit, and 25 kilograms into a standard sun synchronous orbit. Those launches will cost $2–3 million each, with the higher price reserved for “first class” launches reserved as little as three months in advance.

This rocket would compete with Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne and Rocket Lab’s Electron for the smallsat and cubesat business.

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