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Tucson startup Phantom Space heralds milestone with successful rocket engine test

Phantom Space HFT

AZ Inno

Tucson-based space rocket maker Phantom Space says it has reached a major milestone in its development with a successful test of its signature rocket system.

Using a single Hadley thrust engine from Colorado company Ursa Major Technologies, the Arizona startup’s 60-second hot-fire test on Nov. 14 at Spaceport America in New Mexico validated elements of the first and second stages — together called the pathfinder stage — for the company’s Daytona Launch system. A hot-fire test is the final systems test and first launch of a flight stage.

The test is a step toward the company’s goal to launch orbital flight by the end of 2023, three years after its founding. Phantom plans to be able to carry 450 kilograms of payload into low earth orbit for less than $4 million. The company also plans to build its own vehicle and satellite systems with the aim of opening up a cost-effective all-in-one option for governments and commercial entities to get assets into space and stimulate the space economy.

Phantom CEO and co-founder Jim Cantrell called the test an important step in the development of the Daytona rocket.

“The test proved out about 75% of the vehicles systems in a flight realistic condition and places us firmly on our way to testing the first stage with all nine of its engines,” Cantrell said in a statement.

Cantrell — who was previously the first vice president of business development at SpaceX and who also worked at the French Space Agency and at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — previously told AZ Inno that he hopes to change the way businesses get into space by providing reliable transportation.

Test was major milestone

Phantom CTO Chris Thompson said the test was conducted smoothly and called it a major milestone for both Phantom and Ursa Major.

“The test ran the planned full duration of 60 seconds with all vehicle and ground systems working nominally leading to a smooth shutdown,” Thompson said in a statement. “The pathfinder test stage used in this test is a combination of first and second stage elements that has allowed us to test all major elements of the Daytona Launch System.”

In the future, Phantom said it plans to launch from its own West Coast facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base and from Cape Canaveral Space Force station in Florida. In 2023, Phantom plans to do more testing on the rocket’s first stage at a Tucson facility it is currently developing.

The Daytona will start off with nine Ursa Major engines for its first stage of launch and one more for its upper stage.

Phantom struck its engine deal with Ursa Major in May, with plans at the time to start hot-fire testing in the summer. The deal called for the purchase of hundreds of Ursa Major Technologies’ 5,000-pound thrust Hadley engines in different configurations for test launches of Phantom Space’s Daytona rocket. Phantom Space will also buy “numerous” 50,000-pound thrust Ripley engines from Ursa Major for planned upgrades to the Daytona.

“This is an important step in giving the space launch industry a record time to market without sacrificing performance or cost. This milestone is just the beginning of the larger impact partnerships like ours can have,” said Joe Laurienti, Ursa Major CEO and founder, in a statement.


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