The Last Indy Prop Provider Still Standing, with Joe Laurienti


We’re joined today by Joe Laurienti, CEO of Ursa Major, a Colorado upstart building high-performing rocket engines for space launch and hypersonics vehicles. Joe shares a space scoop with us about a new deal that Ursa has struck with a secretive, thought-to-be-dead rocket developer; and also gives us the full rundown on Ursa Major. Today’s episode is brought to you by Kepler Communications, a company bringing the internet to space.


Joe Laurienti is the CEO and cofounder of Ursa Major, a company that builds and sells propulsion products for A) launch, B) hypersonics, and C) in-space transportation. 

Joe cut his teeth at SpaceX and Blue Origin before setting out on his own and starting Ursa Major in 2015. The Colorado company raised $85M in December 2021 and started ramping engine production last year. It has two bigger, badder beasts in the works: Ripley, Hadley’s bigger sister, is 10X more powerful. Arroway, which is further out, is a 200,000-pound thrust, liquid oxygen and methane staged combustion engine. 

On today’s show, Joe and Ryan talk about the startup’s primary products; its origin story; and how big of a market Ursa Major believes it’s going after.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Kepler Communications, a company bringing the internet to space. 

• Sneak peek •

Joe joins Pathfinder with a surprise, and a space scoop: Ursa Major has struck a deal to supply Vector Launch with “several” propulsion systems, he tells Pathfinder. Ursa’s Hadley engines will power the main stage of the Vector-R launch vehicle in future demonstration missions. Vector is a seven-year-old startup that’s raised more than $180M to date but had to declare bankruptcy in 2020. The thought-to-be-dead rocket developer is in fact not dead, and last October, tweeted a photo of its Vector-R, with strong “rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated” vibes. 

• Chapters •

  • 00:00:00 Intro and Ad
  • 00:02:02 Guest Intro
  • 00:03:30 What were you working on at SpaceX and Blue Origin?
  • 00:04:53 USC Rocket Propulsion Lab
  • 00:06:13 Origin story into entrepreneurship
  • 00:09:41 Story of the name Ursa Major
  • 00:11:36 Space SEO + skincare products
  • 00:12:12 How have your numbers changed in a year in terms of production?
  • 00:14:03 Hadley, Ripley, and Arroway
  • 00:15:00 Your engines, how they fit together, and their capabilities
  • 00:19:25 First methane fuled rocket?
  • 00:20:40 Technology stacks/methods driving your production
  • 00:23:51 Reason for existence
  • 00:30:05 Vector and Vector-R annoucnement
  • 00:32:15 Your contribution to the partnership
  • 00:33:52 How did the partnership start and where do you see it going?
  • 00:35:34 Commercial partnership with Phantom
  • 00:37:16 Other partners
  • 00:38:37 Recruitment from the big 2 and other recruiting targets
  • 00:42:24 Raising funds vs revenue generation
  • 00:44:22 Max Q: What reasons are there to be bullish on small launch?
  • 00:45:49 How many launch companies can have viable business models?
  • 00:47:25 how do you view the Aerojet Rocketdyne acquisition and what does it mean for Ursa? Is $4.7B a ceiling for a company building engines? How do you see Ursa becoming more valuable?
  • 00:49:18 Rapid fire q