Pathfinder

An Interview with Jed McCaleb & Max Haot (Vast)

Mo Islam
Jed, Max, very excited to have both of you on the show here today.

Jed
Yeah, excited to be here.

Max
Hey Moog, yeah thanks for inviting us Mo.

Mo Islam
So Jed, is this your first time talking about Vast on a podcast or have you had a public conversation before?

Jed
I’ve talked about it a little bit, but yeah, this is the meatiest one for sure. Yeah.

Mo Islam
Okay, well, I’m very excited. We’re all excited to hear your side of the story as well as Max’s. So maybe just to kind of kick things off, you were the one that, you were the brainchild behind the VAST story. Maybe tell us a little bit about your own maybe career journey for two seconds, just what you did before, and then how you ended up building and wanting to create VAST.

Jed
Sure, yeah. So I’m a programmer by background. I’ve been programming since I was a little kid. I’ve started many software companies. I’ve always been super interested in space, you know, theoretically, but I hadn’t ever done anything in it practically. But I’ve always just thought that it’s really important for humans to get off the planet and out into the solar system. Like the world would be much better if there’s like billions of people living out beyond the earth. I think it’s obviously economically beneficial, but it’s also good from a psychic standpoint, where it’s like, now the Earth feels very zero sum. And I think the way to break that is to give us a frontier. People kind of need a frontier. We’ve had it through our whole existence until very recently. And so I just think for the human psyche, it’s just better to have that.

And so I always kind of told myself, like, if I was ever successful, then I would do something like large and ambitious in space and like help us like, you know, obviously it’s a long way to go from where we are today to this, like, for our future of billions of people in space, but I wanted to kind of like help us like take steps in that direction. And so when I kind of stepped back from my last company, I was thinking about what I could do and kind of fell upon the idea. Like it seems like the next step after getting Mass Cheaply to orbit, which SpaceX is largely solving, is human habitation. And so VAST has kind of set out to do that. So.

Mo Islam
So space was always on your mind, even from what you were doing before.

Jed
Yeah, I mean, I would always kind of like be reading books about, you know, like how to mine asteroids or like how to do all this other stuff. Like, you know, like these like very thick, like thick, like technical books and like people like my friends would kind of make fun of me about it. But, but, you know, I was like, eventually I’m going to do this. So like, here we are. Yeah.

Mo Islam
But why, of all things to start, you pick one of the most capex -heavy things to do in space, at least from the outside looking in? Why start a space station business? Or is it really, at the end of the day, I guess you have this vision of, yeah, humans need to habitate space for a lot of different reasons. But how much of that initial vision of VAST was, hey, this is a business. I need to be, I can make a lot of money doing this.

Jed
Well, I think, you know, so there is one of the challenges with space, you know, historically, and even even still now is that like, there’s this huge chasm to cross, right? There’s like, it’s it’s to do anything meaningful up there, it really does take a lot of a lot of like capital expense, right? And there’s not that many people that are willing to take that kind of risk and do that kind of thing. And so I kind of felt obligated to do that, because again, like I said, I do think it’s like super important. And so but it feels like one of these things where like, it is super expensive, but if you put enough money to do it, you will achieve it. And at that point, it will be a viable business and lucrative and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s not like I’m not really doing VAS to make more money, but VAST needs to be able to make money for it to be successful. So like I’ve done pretty well, but me alone, I don’t have enough money to seed everything that we want to do at VAST. It has to be this economically viable thing that other people are going to want to invest in, and it’s going to have to kick off its own return so it can reinvest them in what its mission is and things like that. So it’s absolutely important, essential, that it is a viable business.

But yeah, so I did definitely think about that when I was like, what will actually work in space? Like there’s lots of things, I could have built lots of things, but I was like, okay, what is something that would eventually be this flywheel, like this economic engine that could like have a life of its own?

Mo Islam
Right, so viable business, so enters Max. Now Max, you’ve built a number of viable businesses, right, before VAST. Maybe tell us about how you ended up now becoming Commander in Chief.

Max
First I didn’t enter, I was invited by Jed through some luckier circumstance. But yeah, my background and career, I was an internet entrepreneur, you know, didn’t go to college, started working when I was 17. And, you know, have been specialized more in the internet and video. I built a first division of a company in London that I sold to Verizon and moved to the US. I’m obviously an American dream type immigrant person. So that was always part of the plan.

My first stop was in New York. I created a company called Livestream after my earn out, which we sold to Vimeo. And in the first hardware experience, they’re building a consumer electronic live streaming camera. And, you know, I’ve been basically wanting to start to pivot my career into space exploration or contributing to space exploration for probably since early 2005 or 2006. And really from the same mission that or interest that Jed has is to see a future where we have a frontier where we are contributing to, you know, billions of people living in space. And also, you know, we are not thinking about the problems of the earth and that we need less population and we need to decelerate, but more an expansionist kind of mindset. So contributing space was my personal answer to that. I also came across, you know, SpaceX very early on and what Elon was doing and was like, wow, if I make enough money, I will be able to pivot my career into space. So 10 years later, I started Launcher, which was a launch company, basically building a small rocket to build a bigger one eventually and a reusable one. You know the story. And throughout the fundraising process, I had the chance to meet Jed to talk about funding Launcher. And so Jed had started VAST maybe just less than a year ago, about a year ago as a small team of

When we closed, it was about 40 people, but I think when we met, maybe 10 at the time. And it built an amazing team of engineers with a lot of human spaceflight experience. Obviously, it chose human spaceflight for VAST, created a roadmap in the focus on artificial gravity and leveraging the Starship era to build an unprecedentedly big space station that’s been for artificial gravity. At that time, Jed basically said, I’m really, I’m paraphrasing you, but I’m impressed with what you’ve done with so little capital at Launcher and I’m looking for somebody to help accelerate and scale VAST and run it. You know, for anyone involved that is an ambition in space, human space flight is the pinnacle of the ambition. You know, it took nearly 20 years even for SpaceX to put the first person in space from their founding. So what Jet offered is really a shortcut to go straight to space exploration an amazing opportunity that I’m very passionate about, but also the resource behind it in a way that you just can’t do, as you mentioned, with fundraising step by step, 10 million, then 20, then 100. And so we found a deal that we were both happy, the investors were happy, the team was happy, and we did the acquisition in February last year. So I’ve been at VAST first as president for about a year and three months, four months, things are going fast and the last August I was appointed, you know, I guess building trust with Jed as CEO, which was sort of the original intention, but, we needed to work together for a bit. So anything I said, I did wrong. I said wrong there, Jed.

Jed
No, that’s basically the story.

Mo Islam
Yeah, I was gonna ask Jed if you could confirm that story. So, there you go. Max, so since taking on the role, what’s been sort of your initial, call it primary objective, right? Obviously, there’s a huge long-term goal that you guys both align on, but what is your sort of like, how would you define your current sort of primary objective?

Max
Well, the first step, Jared and I started to work on with the team on the stepping stone strategy, right? We had the long-term goal for us, which is the artificial gravity space station. So 105 meter long by seven meter diameter, a spinning stick at four rotation per minute. And if you achieve that, you can have artificial gravity at both end. You can have lunar and Mars gravity and also microgravity in the center. But if you objectively look at it, it will take more than 10 billion in more than a decade to build that and we had to also wait for Starship to be ready. So really when I joined, we started to work on, okay, but how can we create a stepping stone roadmap to get to that vision? And you were mentioning economic viability. We really believe that the biggest opportunity in the space station market is obviously NASA. NASA will not be our sole customer. We’ll not have 100% of our revenue and viability from NASA.

But NASA is, and the US government is happy to be an anchor customer. So that means, you know, tens of percent, but less than 50% of your revenue. And they are running a competition called commercial layer destination where they are expected to choose a winner to replace the ISS, which is due to the orbit in 2030 in 2026. So the first thing we did back to your question is say, okay, should we really win this? And we were like, yeah, we, you know, if we win this we will be around for decades. If we don’t, we’ll find another solution as an exciting market, but we feel it’s really important. And then we took a step back and said, what can we do to make sure we win it? Because NASA had already selected four partners and we were sort of already behind from a procurement point of view. And that’s when Haven 1 came, okay, let’s not wait for Starship. Let’s build a Falcon 9 space station. When we are ready, SpaceX will be ready. And let’s actually build, launch, and have a crew of four visit for 10 days and come back home safely. And we basically felt if we do all of this before NASA and the US government is to make a procurement decision, we will be the world’s only commercial space station company and operator. And we think it will be impossible for them to, or we hope at least, to not at least give us half of the contract. So that’s the first thing we did is to not, the long-term strategy was set, but the short-term strategy, and now we’ve been executing it basically. So.

Mo Islam
Jed, have you built a hardware company in the past?

Jed
No, this is my first foray into hardware for sure. Yeah.

Mo Islam
What are some of the differences kind of initially like outside of the capital intensive part of the two sides, but maybe talk a little bit about what’s been your experience so far.

Jed
Yeah, I mean, it’s been super interesting. I’m an engineer by background, but a software engineer. And so it’s still engineering. It’s just like you kind of have a different set of constraints. Like now you’re constrained by physics rather than like the weird things computers can do. So it’s been a cool thing to think through and work on. Obviously, hardware is way less forgiving. Software, you can just make a new pull request and fix problems. Whereas hardware, you might have to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars of stuff if you want to pivot, right? So you have to be a little more methodical than you are or careful than you are with software. But I’m learning a lot and it’s been super fun, honestly. So, yeah.

Mo Islam
I’m not hearing any regrets so far. Well, let’s take a quick step back. So we’re talking a little bit about the opportunity, the market opportunity. Let’s try to throw some dollars at this. What is the market opportunity for free-flying space station? How much of the current sort of ISS spend do you think you guys can capture?

Jed
Yeah, I mean, so it’s really hard to say just because there’s never been a commercial station before, you know, like this is obviously very new and also a lot of what. VAST is predicated on is the fact that Starship will be working, right? And if Starship actually starts to fly and it’s able to get like mass to orbit like, you know, a hundred times cheaper than we can do currently, it’s just really going to change the whole economy up there. And we’re betting basically that there’ll be lots of more, lots more like enterprise and lots of other things going on. And a lot of those things will need humans in the loop or benefit from humans in the loop. And we’ll be able to provide that. So it’s really, you know, right now, you know, I think what is the ISS probably spends like 3 billion a year or something. NASA spends about three billion a year, I think, keeping ISS afloat. They want to spend less than that. That’s one of the reasons why they’re doing this CLV thing. But that’s kind of the order of magnitude it is right now. But I think it’s going to be much, much bigger once the space economy starts to really balloon post-Starship is kind of what we’re betting on, I think. I don’t know if you have something to add, Max.

Max
No, I was going to say the current NASA budget is about $4 billion and their goal is to spend $2 billion so that they can reassign financial resource to Artemis. So that’s at least the current and we recommend that they have two providers, at least at the beginning stage before they go all in on one space station. And that includes transportation, a lot of the fees to SpaceX. So you’re talking at least $1 billion a year type contract, which is not obviously all gross profit.

But that’s just a NASA piece, right? And we also see market demand, proven market demand in international space agencies that are flying, you know, citizens for the first time doing experiment in science, also private individual. And then the whole holy grail of in-space manufacturing, which is still very nascent, but could be the killer application that, you know, that can on its own justify building a space station factory in space and you know every month. So we’ll be part of the people that unlock that. It’s not yet a proven market but it’s certainly the one with the most hope for the next few decades. And then you have also private individual that are part of it at a certain level. I mean it’s still in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the market today and not yet in volume but we hope as transportation costs are reduced and space station costs are reduced that they will play a larger part of the economy as it goes.

Mo Islam
So I do want to ask about your approach versus others, but maybe before we jump into that, let’s talk about Haven 1, right? It’s the first station that you’re putting up in the space, I think in 2025, if I’m not mistaken, summer of 2025. Talk a little bit about the approach to Haven 1, the progress and sort of key milestones that you’ve achieved so far.

Max
So the key to Haven 1 is a minimum viable product space station. How can we do it in a record time, probably five times cheaper, five times faster than anyone has done? And how can we do it before NASA makes this decision in 2026? And so in doing that, we talked about it. We first down selected to focus on Falcon 9. It’s a single module space station. It’s a single port. It is actually a limited lifetime space station. It does not have cargo resupply capability. So it will be on orbit for three years. And during that time, we expect to have four 10-day expeditions for a crew of four. So obviously, VAST 1 will be the first one shortly after we launch. And then during the three years, we expect to do a three additional ones. And that’s pretty much the feature. We recently announced that we will have Starlink internet laser, the first space station to have a deal with SpaceX. And also we agreed with SpaceX that we will be able to offer it to NASA and our CLD Haven 2 station. And so that’s obviously unique and very different. Now, if you look at the Haven 1 product compared to a Dragon free flyer where you like inspiration for Jared Isaacman orbited the earth for three days with four people, but didn’t actually go to the ISS or any other destination, when you dock to Haven 1,

Firstly, you can stay much longer because we have all the consumables, the water, the oxygen, the food, and others, CO2 scrubbing and so on. So you can stay about easily five times longer with a marginal extra fee. But also you get sleeping station and you get five times the usable volume instead of being crammed into a dragon. So even though it’s a small space station, single module, it’s a major upgrade to anything out there for Dragon other than the ISS, which has its own limited supply and restrictions for non-governmental astronauts. And so we are building it. We’ve just announced on our website the creation of our primary structure pathfinder, where we proved all of the key geometries in our aluminium primary structure, all built in-house in the USA. Originally Boeing built a lot of the ISS module, but I don’t believe they have that capability up and running anymore.

Max
And a lot of the other competitors are relying on Europe and vendors to do that. So we are building it in the US and we’re building it in-house. With raw material comes in, space station primary structure. And so you can expect that at the end of the summer, early fall, we will have a qualification version of that. So that’s the full Haven 1 space station primary structure with the window and the hatch. And it will undergo pressure and load testing in our Mojave test site facility. So that will happen in the fall. Integration is due to start in December or shortly after, also in our facilities. So that’s the moment where all of the subsystems, the computers, the CMGs, the tanks, the propulsion, everything gets outfitted and bolted inside and tested. And then we plan next summer a test campaign at the Plum Brook NASA facility, which is the largest facility to do this kind of vibration test, acoustic and thermal vacuum test. Then it will go to the launch site and launch on a reusable Falcon 9. August is our no earlier than date that is public. And I can tell you we are tracking very close to that, just a little bit after and definitely in 2025 to launch it.

Mo Islam
Great, that’s super exciting. Wait, so did I hear you earlier correctly? You said you guys are building most of the components, if not all the components in-house?

Max
Yeah, that’s actually when we started the program, the approach is outsource if you can write the program at a two year time to fly. And when we, you know, we were with the heaven team and Jed basically a key brief is let’s, this is a constraint of time, reduce the feature to fit in that time. Obviously for safety is number one and so that we cannot compromise. and outsource every piece we can. So, but it’s actually, it turns out you can’t outsource many things if you need the hardware in a year.

So we did succeed at outsourcing and partnering on propulsion with Tom Mueller, the famed head of propulsion at SpaceX. There now is a new company called Impulse. So they’re doing all of our COPV tanks for ECLIS, so for life support, for propulsion, all of our 48 thrusters. We partnered with a company in Spain called DHV for our solar panel. And we partnered with others on smaller piece. But most of the other system, whether it’s a flight computer a reaction real CMG, valves, primary structure we discussed, secondary structure, internal. Most of them we are designing in-house, manufacturing, so machining in-house, and we’re also testing. We have a vibe table and we have thermal vacuum systems. And that’s really the only way to go this fast, is if you do vertical integration, and you have a team that can design this component and they have the tools to do it. So we wish we could outsource more, but that’s pretty much 90% is probably vertically integrated at this point.

Mo Islam
How are you thinking about materials used, especially from the perspective of construction and safety? Obviously, the structure has never been to space. How are you thinking about that piece of it?

Max
I mean, one of the things that while we didn’t win the Phase 1 award for CLD, we were not around, we didn’t bid two years ago for NASA, we won a contract called CCSC2, which gave us access to all of the expertise, all the design of NASA. We can do technical interchange meeting. They are part of all of our primary design reviews, CDRs, and we are like one of the winners, but we’re just not getting the money that was associated, but we’re getting all the experience and the information. The other piece is that VAST is 400 people and we have, if you aggregate the number of human space flight mission that our team has been part of, you know, they are in the hundreds. And so many people have worked on Dragon and other, have other crewed experience even back to the shuttle at VAST. And so between the NASA information that is public, the one that we can access and the experience of our team, you know, we know the state of the art of what you should do in materials. So the primary structure is in aluminum 2219 and that’s the most modular than the Russian one or in that material. So nothing new And then you know for everything inside we have an amazing human human factors team that is experienced whether it’s you know clothing and material and fire suppression and But it does not you know when that’s not an area of innovation right now. It’s just an area of following safety standards that SpaceX is imposing on us that we want which are a subset of usual NASA safety standards and in making sure we are safe and compliant. And we also have a safety and mission assurance team and all the process that you’d expect to ensure you have a safe space station and safe flights for your crew.

Mo Islam
So I’m going to hand you guys some boxing gloves for a second. So imaginary boxing gloves. So let’s talk about the competition. So usually when I ask this question to folks, I think founders and executives skirt around the question and they give me like, well, you know, our competition is awesome and they’re great and there’s room for multiple players. And maybe that’s true. But maybe like, let’s kind of maybe, maybe let’s like try to think about this critically, right? What do you think about the approach of the other of the competitors out there? Obviously, the main ones, you know, Starlab, Orbital Reef, and Axiom. How did you think about their approach versus your approach and sort of that go-to market? Because if my dates are correct, like based on the summer 2025 timeline, you’re going to be first out of all of them.

Max
Yep, Axiom is announced.
No, no, go ahead, do it.

Jed
yeah, I was just gonna say, yeah, I mean, we’re definitely like from the beginning, our goal was to be like very fast. I think one of the lessons from SpaceX is that the faster you could go and the more you can iterate, it’s actually ends up being cheaper and your missions end up being more successful because you just have more you have more experience essentially, right? And obviously that has limits with human space flight. We can’t just like blow up module after module, but I think leading up to that, we can take a lot of those lessons. And so, you know, a lot of our team is from, is like former SpaceX. And so there’s a lot of that DNA in InsideVast. And so…

All of that is allowing us to move much faster. And I think if you look at the DNA of these other efforts, it’s very different, right? A lot of it is for NASA or for big aerospace. And so they kind of have a different approach to this. And I think that’s one of the things that will set us apart. And the other is just we’ve been lucky to be able to kind of like not worry about the funding cycle so much. Like this is basically like funded all the way through Haven One. And so we don’t have to like pause and like try to get funding and like try to appeal to investors along the way. And that’s allowed us to say like really focused on what we are goal and like trying to get there. And I think that’s a huge leg up actually. So.

Mo Islam
Max, before I turn it over to you, I actually think, Jed, that’s a really good point, the funding part, meaning that you don’t have to worry until Haven One, because I actually think one of SpaceX’s biggest strengths that isn’t talked about as much as some of the more obvious ones is the fact that the employees don’t have to worry about funding. And it’s a very, very powerful ally to have when your employee doesn’t have to wonder, hey, is my stock, you know, is my company going away? Or, you know, am I going to get to this point? Or what, you know, there’s a variety of different questions you can ask yourself as an employee if your company has to come back into market every six months, which unfortunately, a lot of the these capital intensive businesses in the industry have to. And I think one of SpaceX’s biggest advantages is that their employees can sit, they basically they all they have to worry about is like delivering the product at a crazy timeline, right. And I think that’s a huge, huge advantage. But Max, over to you, you’re I’m sure you have.

Max
Yeah, to correct on that, I think that’s true of SpaceX today was stunning, but the early days, I can tell you that fighting to close around and deliver a milestone and get a payment from NASA to survive are well documented. So they definitely had that survival need more than once, which actually works great. And so, yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And I’ll get back to competitors that, you know, that’s one of the things that makes VAS very unique is that funding to Haven One. But we also need to become a viable business, and that means profitability. And we also need to bring investors into our board and into our family of trust and leadership. And so sometime before Haven One, we will definitely be in the market between sometime between now and the end of next year and get some financial investor that can kind of support the growth you know as we transition to revenue from NASA and obviously we will need more resource at that time. In terms of competitor, you know to be a bit more specific, you know Orbital Reef and Starlab, you know are both appearing to us as doing mostly paper engineering for their phase one contract and waiting to really win this award from the government from NASA before really building a space station. And so that’s

That’s one different, you know, that’s our second differentiator is our strategy. We are building Haven One with zero dollar from the US government, zero dollar from NASA. And, and I don’t think they are. And so in terms of Axiom, they are actually doing some hardware, they’ve flown to the ISS. And, but in that case, the differentiation is the architecture they have. Their plan is to build a module. The current date, I think it was originally 24. Now it’s 26 publicly, but they plan to build a module that doesn’t have all the capability and links to the ISS. We think that approach first is a lot more complicated because you need to certify it to approach the ISS. So it’s like a dragon, basically, or at least like a Cygnus you need to birth. So we’ll see how the timeline fare with that complexity and the safety involved with that. But also that’s not really a space station, right? And so they have to wait until they add a few module and then they separate from the ISS and they have all the systems at a much later date. So in terms of the only ones, if you look at building an actual space station that can have a crew visited, a free flyer, the ISS is on its own a free flyer, an alternative US free flyer, and doing it before winning in 2026 the award, we are the only one. And the only question is, will we be able to execute successfully and safely with the resource that Jed has provided? We’re very confident of that, but obviously that’s how the market is looking at us. They’re saying, at first when we announced it, they were like, that’s really ambitious. We don’t really believe it. Every time we show evidence, everybody’s taking us more seriously. It’s quite fun to watch. And I think as we will do it, the change will be material in the way the US government will decide how to pick the partner they have to build Space Station.

Mo Islam
how big of an advantage is it to be first in this market? We’ve known, and Jed, obviously you’ve seen this on the software side, being first sometimes always isn’t the best. It’s certainly happened, but in this specific case, given the uniqueness of the market and the customer base, how important do you think it is to be first?

Jed
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, you know, it’s cool to be first just because like it’s a historical fact, a feat, right? Like we will be the first commercial space station that’s cool to have, you know, in the VAST Wikipedia. But I mean, I think for us, I think it’s more important that like we want the culture of like doing things at a rapid pace. Like I think most people at the company don’t want to wait until 2030 to launch something. It just ends up being a very different organization. And so I think it’s like for the team, it’s culturally more important than it is for some sort of selling point, at least in my view. But I don’t know, Max, if you think different.

Max
Yeah, for us, there’s no really being first, but until we put Haven 1 up there and we have a crew open the hatch and come back home to their family, are we really a space station company? I don’t think so. And so it’s nothing to do with being first, it’s to be a space station company. We just have to do that safely as quickly as we can. It just happens that we’ll be the first commercially to do it. If you look at the history, we’re not the first group of engineers to build space station modules, right? And the big difference there is we’re trying to do it five times lower cost and five times faster. And then that will give us all the intellectual property to a functioning company and functioning engineering process to, I believe, build anything. You want it bigger, you want it more capable, just a matter of cash and time. But it’s no longer a question like, can this group of people really do this? You retire that risk, basically, at that point.

Mo Islam
Okay, so Max, maybe talk to me a little bit about your perspective on the ability to sustain multiple providers, multiple station providers.

Max
So if you look in the long term as the Leo economy build and thrive, including in space manufacturing, absolutely, especially on a global basis, there should be more than two and potentially 10 space station orbiting Earth and some near the moon and beyond. If you look at now, can the US government, can the economy afford three copies of the ISS, we would say at this scale? I think we know we cannot. But I think it’s really important for the US government before down selecting a vendor to build a NASA space station, a CLD, to really test at least two providers. It will be the responsible thing. And to do it before the ISS is deorbited in 2030. And we absolutely believe that even maybe within the current CLD NASA budget and definitely within the US government ability, if they wanted to grow that budget. We can afford two single module experimental, simple space station in addition to the ISS and then don’t select one and build a much larger one and invest more after. So our view is there should be two at least in the initial stage and then maybe it will be reasonable if the Leo economy is not grown to what we hope it will to focus on one at that point.

Mo Islam
So we talk to many investors and the number one topic that investors have asked us about over the last year or two has been launch. The second most asked about topic in sub industry or sub sector is space stations. So maybe from your guys’ perspective, just because we do have a very sizable investor sort of listenership, what is the most common misconception from investors around investing in space stations that you’d want to address right now? And I think, Jed, you’re in a unique vantage point, right? Because you, too, are a very significant investor in a couple of different space companies. So maybe talk a little bit about what are some misconceptions that you’ve noticed about the way investors think about space stations?

Jed
Yeah, well, it’s interesting. You know, since, since we, you know, this is all self-funded, so I haven’t really talked to many investors about space stations in particular, just because I haven’t been pitching anyone. So I would just kind of have to imagine what they would, what they would have issue with or be confused about. I mean, you know, honestly, like, I think the scale of it will be off-putting for folks because like, as you pointed out, it’s like hugely capital intensive. It’s one of these things where, You know, and it’s also very new. Like there hasn’t been a commercial station before. So it’s really, it’s kind of unclear the amount of demand there will be outside of NASA and other folks. And so we can kind of project it based on a little bit of data, but there’s not that much yet. So it is sort of a leap of faith. But that said, I think once you start to dig in, it’s pretty compelling. There obviously is demand from, like, if you just look at like,

You know, the things that Jared Eichsman are doing and like a lot of other folks, there is demand for like private individuals to want to go to space for various reasons. And, you know, there’s, and as Max is kind of hinting at, like there could be these manufacturing breakthroughs that will need, that will like need humans in the loop, like the kind of the stuff that Varta is working on. Like if they, you know develop some sort of material that is good to build in zero G, like you probably will want a station to help them out with that. I think like, you know, you’ll probably need stations around like the moon if we’re going to do more stuff in Artemis, like this, like Elon’s Mars ambitions, he doesn’t really talk about it, but really you would want stations somehow in that, in that loop somehow. I mean, a station is just going to be much nicer to live on than, than inside Starship. So, I think as just kind of the space economy develops in general, human habitation is going to be key, right, if we want to participate in it. So, yeah, I don’t know if you have a better answer than that.

Max
Yeah, and if you look at the short-term market, you know, basically like project that we have won a, you know, multi-billion dollar contract over many years to have NASA as our anchor customer. I think that’s a pretty easy decision to then have that as a baseline foundation for investment. And then obviously everything else is the upside, the international government, the private individual and the in-space manufacturing and research. And so I think the investment market is being asked to choose the winner. And I would say, you know, as we will start this conversation, we as Jed mentioned, we are focused on execution, which is bringing interest from the investment community. But that, you know, that’s, that’s the thing we have to be seen or whoever will win as the de facto winner in the uncertainty makes it difficult because some of these space station companies, which are just doing PowerPoint engineering to please NASA in anticipation of a bid. Maybe they’re building a window on the side, maybe they’re doing this, but they’re not actually building products or real technology beyond design and paper. If they don’t win CLD, I don’t believe they will exist after that day. And so that’s pretty much all or nothing. So we’re obviously trying to de-risk that by building one with zero dollar from NASA, which makes the odds that we can be operating without winning it much greater.

But I think that’s that. Some of the skepticism that you might use speaks to more of them than we do. But it’s probably, if I knew it was the winner, I probably wouldn’t be thinking about it so hard. And I can’t predict yet who’s going to win. So we hope to make that choice easy and obvious. But we need to continue to execute for that to happen.

Mo Islam
Yeah, no, interestingly enough, what I hear the most is not questions around technical feasibility. What I hear the most is around questions around the market. And I know we’ve addressed some of those today, but the biggest question I get is who’s the customer here? Who’s going to buy this product? Who wants to, who needs to be in microgravity? Why is that a big market? I think that’s actually by far the biggest thing that I hear. I want to talk about SpaceX real quick. So you have a pretty interesting partnership with SpaceX. It feels to me like it could be from a certain perspective, viewed as a competitive advantage, having this unique relationship with what SpaceX is doing with Crew Dragon. Can you talk a little bit about SpaceX’s desire to partner with you guys and how that sort of formed and developed?

Max
Yeah. So we, you know, when we started the Haven One program, in our intention is not just to build a space station that can have humans, is to bring humans. And, you know, you could launch Haven One on multiple of rockets if you want to overpay and if you want a lot of, you know, risk and delays. So, Falcon 9 is the easy choice and the most economical. but then when it comes to bringing people to your space station right now, Boeing is not up and running and, you know, we have concerns about how commercial they are in terms of price and notice time before they fly. You know, if you call SpaceX and you say I need a flight to Haven 1 in less than one year and I need to train this crew a year easy, a little bit less than one year, they’ll probably do it. And this is just nothing, nothing like it. And right now as a US company, there’s only one crewed vehicle you can buy from. If you add to that, that, you know, we obviously are aligned with the Mars mission in the long term of not just making money for the sake of it, but helping humanity expand beyond Earth.

And the fact that we are building our roadmap based on Starship, it’s a good idea to be as close as we can to SpaceX. And so that’s our intentional strategy, is to be as close as they will let us be. And we see them as friends and we are building on their platform. And so the first thing we did is do a launch deal, a launch partnership, you know, is documented as such that for Falcon 9 and Dragon, the next thing we did is the Starlink deal with the first one to have done that and really knocked on that door and got that deal done. And I hope we will do a lot more. And so some of it is in discussion. I can’t speak about, but I definitely hope we will be as close as we can to the, you know, the only human spaceflight company anyway that we can and should work.

Mo Islam
Can you share more about the product roadmap beyond Haven 1? And how, if at all, do you envision SpaceX’s involvement there? And I know you mentioned you can’t talk about some of those things, so maybe you can’t talk about it, but to the extent that you can share.

Jed
Yeah, I mean, you know, originally the goal was, okay, we want humans living for long periods of time in space, right? And so in order to do that, in order to really live for longer than a year, you need artificial gravity. So kind of the original concept was this sort of stick-like station where you connect several models together end to end, and you end up with like this hundred meter long stick, and then you spin this thing, and that gives you like kind of Earth-like gravity at the ends, right? And so that’s still a target we’re going for. I mean, obviously there’s like many interim steps to get there, but I think ultimately, you know, if we want, you know, first thousands of people living in space and like really to open up like for living there for long periods of time, you need some structure like this otherwise it’s just not possible, right? And so, yeah, obviously the first step is Haven 1. Then we are going to hopefully like design some stuff that will hopefully meet the requirements of CLD. And then kind of grow, you know, these things are all modular so you can kind of like hopefully stick them together and like slowly build the system as you’ve done with ISS, right? And so that’s kind of rough shape of what we’re going for, but it’s still a little ways off.

Max
Yeah, and you have the artificial gravity space station on one end, you have Haven one on the other, and then Haven 2 and Haven 3, we have on our website, you can check the roadmap page. We talk about Haven 2 will be a Starship based single module, but we’re still looking at this. So to be clear, we have not unveiled yet our CLD architecture on NASA approved or certified space station and bid. We will eventually.

And so that will be called Haven 2. So the roadmap is evolving, not both end. We’re very focused on Haven 1. That’s what 90 % of the people here, or 99% of the 400 people we have advanced, will be about 650 by the end of the year, 800 by the time we fly. And then the middle piece, which is really a station that is built on what we’ve learned so far, but also on what NASA needs, that’s the piece that we are keeping a little secret for now.

Mo Islam
Great. How dependent are you on Starship timelines? If Starship, for whatever reason, is delayed, do you see that poking a hole in the plans for what’s after Haven 1?

Jed
Originally that was true, but when we pivoted to Haven 1, that’s no longer the case, right? I mean, now we have this module that fits inside Falcon 9. Building the first one is definitely the hardest. So if Starship’s delayed and we want to do more Falcon 9 size modules, that will be easy for us to keep making those, right? So I think the downside is it’s just more expensive, but that can be dealt with, right? So.

Max
And you know, on the crude side, obviously there’s two sides to Starship, right? The ability to launch an uncrewed space station and deploy it. And then there is the ability to bring, you know, however, tens of people to a space station and have unprecedented volume. You know, clearly the crude version of Starship, you know, beyond HLS, which the crew won’t be reentering with Starship or leaving Earth with Starship, you know, it’s a little ways off. I think probably SpaceX or Elon would still admit that. But the satellite version of Starship, their priority is Starlink, launching the larger Starlink satellite. But we see that coming pretty soon. That doesn’t seem to be a risk in our roadmap. So you could have a Starship launch space station combined with a Dragon flight for the crew. That’s a very likely architecture for a while. But we’re also not precluding launching more Falcon space station built on what we’ve learned from Haven 1. So that’s the piece we are figuring out internally.

Mo Islam
Do you believe that Starship will ever be converted into a space station? Do you see that as a risk?

Max
Yeah, SpaceX has been originally, I believe, on the original CLD and has been on this contract CCSC2 with a concept that’s public of a Starship space station, more like the shuttle goes with all the experiment for six months and come back together. And that’s a very interesting concept. We don’t see that specific concept competing directly with us. And yes, it’s possible that SpaceX will be a formidable competitor in the CLD procurement. But we’re willing to take that risk and we’ll see what happens. But there’s other potential outcomes that we’re also hoping for.

Mo Islam
Yeah, and for the record, I certainly don’t believe that just because there’s a big competitor or potential competitor out there with a lot of meaning doesn’t mean they’re gonna be able to do it nor are they gonna be able to do it as well as you, but I have to ask.

Mo Islam
So guys, I want to talk for a second about fundraising. So you’ve mentioned that Haven One is fully funded, or excuse me, VAST is fully funded through Haven One. Maybe talk a little bit about how investors, and Jed, maybe this is a question directly for you, how should investors think about your involvement from a fundraising perspective? Obviously, you’ve helped fund the business through now. How are you thinking about yourself as a participant in the business long term?

Jed
Yeah, I mean, I’m obviously super passionate about it. I spent a pretty significant fraction of my net worth on it and time. And so I want it to succeed. I think I would suspect that investors would view it positively. I want to back this thing. I’m bringing other people on board, not so much just because I need to, but more because I think it will like expand our network and it’s just good to have other people kind of on your team essentially, right? So I feel like investors should view that positively. Yeah.

Mo Islam
So if we think about sort of the general economics of space stations, the estimates are that the ISS costs somewhere between $100 to $150 billion to build, depending on who you ask and what they include. But the point is it’s at least $100 billion. Now, I have no doubt that this is what you’re building is a tiny fraction of that. But can you give us a little sense of what the economics look like for something like Haven 1 or anything sort of on in general on how you’re thinking about economics or how investors should think about economics.

Jed
Yeah, so the economics depend a lot on the customer base, obviously, but also on your ECLS, your life support system. The life support on Haven 1 is all what we call open loop. So everything is expendable. We have to keep bringing up new water and oxygen and CO2 scrubbing and all like that. And that makes it where it’s pretty borderline. But if you can close that loop where you get because basically what you’re putting up there is a certain number of days on orbit. And if you can extend that number of days on orbit longer, then the thing becomes more and more economically viable. And so Haven 1 now has roughly like 40 days of like, well, 160 days of people days that can exist there. And if you close the ECLS loop, then you can easily double that or way more than double that. And then all of a sudden, it’s extremely economically viable, right? So really a big factor in this equation is just like how good your ECLS system can be, and which is obviously what we’re spending a lot of time working on. So, like I said, the Haven one will be open looped just because we wanted this MVP kind of concept where we just got something up as soon as possible. But that’s the thing that we’re focusing on as much as we can after that.

Max
Yeah, and if you look at the main cost to visit and spend time on a space station is transportation. So firstly, we need and hope the crew dragon or the starship in the future, the sea to bring you to orbit and dock and come back on the parachute or propulsively landed. We need that cost to go down. If you look beyond that, what we charge customers, that’s the lion’s share, the transportation cost. And then we have a price per day per crew. There and as Jed mentioned when we open loop, it’s finite or we have to bring to a cargo at great expense more of these consumable But as we evolve towards closed loop, which has been achieved mostly on the ISS You know the the time on the station is less of a finite resource in in a lot more affordable in terms of building the modules You know the first module we are building We’re not really the expense, you know, it’s two to three years of a company that will average, call it 700 people and, you know, nearly 200,000 square feet of facilities. You can kind of do the quick math. And so the cost is all of that, but what we are really doing is building the first one. If you look at Haven 2, the next module, I mean, it’s, it’s trivial, right? It’s literally raw material in some of the technician and team there.

The launch cost of the module on a Falcon 9 reusable, that’s a public price, is in the 60 million-ish, right, between 60 and 70 million. And hopefully, with Starship, that will go down. So that’s not really a big factor, the launch cost of the module. So the economics keep getting better as we pop out or build module that are based on the tooling and the technology we’ve invested on Haven 1. And transportation is really what we need for the cost to go down. There’s other things like solar power. So for example, on Heaven One, we decided for speed to go traditional with multi-junction cell, space solar array basically. And they are pretty expensive and they’re not built in house and vertically integrated. So whether it’s Haven Two or Three, we’re going to need to have much lower cost solar power using terrestrial cells, something similar to what Starlink has achieved. And that will keep reducing the cost. Everything else is just, you know, pretty much everything else is, you know, microchips and raw material and machine time and people time to integrate it and test it. It’s actually not that expensive if you vertically integrate.

Mo Islam
So we’ve spent a lot of time on this show talking about commercial opportunities, especially in microgravity environments, everything from in-space manufacturing to various types of R&D work that’s taking place. Obviously that also goes into government and NASA’s, what NASA’s been doing on the ISS since the late 90s. But what is the, is there a military opportunity that you guys are thinking about or is sort of top of mind, space at the end of the day, many of the US adversaries are building in space because of their belief that it’s sort of the ultimate high ground. But I have not spent nearly enough time talking to folks about what that looks like. And I’m curious if you have spent some time thinking about what that opportunity looks like.

Max
I think it’s a little sensitive, but there are definitely derivatives of space station that can be used by branches of the military. And we are part of this conversation or where you also have the more basic side is that the Space Force has never sent anyone to space in uniform. That should probably happen one day and it can happen to the ISS because it cannot be militarized, so that’s a good thing for Space Station. The Italian Space Force is also a customer of, is flown to the ISS on a commercial basis, and so that’s already today. But in terms of crewed platform in lower orbit, the moon, geo, that are crewed by military personnel for military objective against adversaries. Yeah, that might be part of the equation. That’s certainly not our focus, but we are part of these discussions.

Mo Islam
Yeah. And Max, since Launcher was acquired, are there any parts of the business that are sort of being utilized within the VAST ecosystem?

Max
I mean, a lot of the teams, you know, we had about 40 people at VAST and about 80 at Launcher. So part of it was also seeding a lot of the teams, you know, whether it’s in software and other areas, GNC, manufacturing, we actually grew it out of everything that Launcher had and obviously, you know, brought a lot of new talent and grew the team and the facility. So yeah, there’s different parts, but mostly the people and some small part of the technology in avionics and software for example.

Mo Islam
So as we sort of close out here, I have a two-part question for both of you. I’d love to get both of your answers on this, which is, what keeps you up at night as you’re building VAST? And what excites you the most about what you’re building? And Jed, we can start with you.

Jed
Sure. Let’s see. I mean, what keeps me up at night? I mean, I think, you know, like space is very hard. There’s, you know, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. It’s a very complex system. I mean, I think, you know, like we’ll launch it and, you know, something can go wrong with the launch. I mean, that hasn’t happened in a long time to Falcon 9, but you never know. And then like something can go wrong on orbit. I mean, there’s just a lot of complexity here and you really, we really have like, you know, a couple of shots to get it right. I mean, we could probably do it again if the first haven’t one fails, but it would be a setback for sure. So it’s nothing particular. It’s just kind of this vague, like it’s a high risk endeavor, right? And so that kind of like angst, I guess, but.

But I think we have the right team, everything is moving along, the technology is awesome. I think we’re doing all the right things and it’s very encouraging. What excites me is just the fact that this is, every day, every time I go down to LA and look at the facility, it’s just more and more real. It’s just like, this is actually happening like we you know we have this pathfinder structure that we built and the full structures coming together like it’s just it will be amazing to have you know a VAST station like orbiting the earth we’ll be able to go and look at it in the night sky that that will be awesome so yeah the whole endeavor is very exciting to me basically is what I’m trying to say.

Max
Yeah, I guess, you know, what keeps me up at night, you know, we have many people that have been on console and responsible for people in orbit. We have our astronaut advisor, Drew Fustel and Garrett Reisman that themselves have done EVA and Drew has repaired the Hubble telescope and, you know, has been on console, has been in space while some of the people that are on our team were on console. And so what I’m hearing, you know, firsthand, I’ve never experienced that as a responsibility as a CEO. But, you know, we obviously have an incredible opportunity once we’ll see our crew and we’ll meet them and their families. And once they’ll be on orbit for these 10 days, I don’t know how much sleep Jed and I and some of the key team members are going to get. And so it’s more of a, you know, a responsibility. It keeps me at night, but it’s a responsibility that, you know, a lot of the choice we make now can impact the outcome and the safety. So thinking about that, but also looking forward to that responsibility and making sure we do the right thing. And it’s something very special with human space flight and very, you know, satellite definitely doesn’t have that and satellite are pretty cool. You’re operating a machine in space, but this is a totally different level. And then, you know, what I’m looking forward to is I keep dreaming that I will be able to afford or another reason to go and visit one of the products I helped build with the team in space. So that definitely, when it gets tough, I’m like, you know, you’re the closest you’ve ever been to go to space. So just keep doing it. So I’m keeping that dream alive.

Mo Islam
Well, you actually answered my last question, but Jed, I’m going to ask you, I’m sure you have plans and interest to go to space. When do you think you’ll make your trip up with VAST?

Jed
Yeah, I mean, you know, hopefully soon. Yeah, I haven’t really like set a date yet or like thought too much about it. The first step is just, you know, I just want to get the thing up and working and viable, right? And then I’ll start thinking about that kind of stuff. Yeah, but yeah, it will be amazing.

Mo Islam
Fair enough, fair enough. All right, well, you guys are doing amazing stuff. Thank you guys for being on the show. Really appreciate it and excited to have you back on as we get closer and closer to Summer 2025 and Haven 1 launch.

Jed
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Mel.

Max
Yeah, thanks again, Mo.

Mo Islam
Thanks, guys.

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