Long Beach’s newest space company, Vast Space, has acquired another tech startup, effectively tripling its workforce and expediting its mission to create the world’s first artificial gravity space station.

Launcher, a Hawthorne-based startup founded in 2017, announced the acquisition this week. The company is the developer of Orbiter, a space tug that can deposit multiple satellites to different orbits during a single mission. The firm also has developed a liquid rocket engine dubbed E-2.

“Our Launcher team jumped at the chance to join Jed [McCaleb’s] vision of moving beyond Earth and advancing humanity’s exploration of space,” founder and CEO Max Haot said in a statement. Haot will now serve as president of Vast.

This is Vast’s first acquisition, Haot said, declining to say how much it cost the company. He said future acquisitions will not be ruled out if other companies could put a space station in orbit sooner.

Haot said he met Vast founder and CEO McCaleb last summer as an introduction for a potential investment opportunity in Launcher. The pair quickly realized the benefits of combining the two companies, he said.

Overnight, the finalization of the acquisition more than tripled Vast’s workforce from about 40 to over 120. The original Vast employees are expected to move from El Segundo to the company’s new 115,000-square-foot Long Beach facility in the newly constructed industrial complex at Spring Street and Orange Avenue in the coming weeks, Haot said in a phone interview Thursday.

The Launcher employees, as well as its equipment, will move to Long Beach in the summer or early fall, he said.

“This is great news,” Long Beach Economic Development Department Director Bo Martinez said in an email to the Business Journal on Tuesday. “The city looks forward to working in partnership with Vast Space as they continue to invest, add talent and grow their headquarters in Long Beach.”

The company previously announced plans to grow its workforce to 700 employees by the end of 2027.

In addition to increasing its workforce, Haot said the acquisition will expedite Vast’s efforts in a number of ways. Being focused on designing its space station, Vast had not built up its manufacturing capabilities. Launcher, on the other hand, already had manufacturing equipment.

Launcher also produces its own components for Orbiter, including thrusters, flight computers, cameras, guidance systems and separation devices, among other things, that can be tweaked into systems for the future space station.

Vast is slated to use the Orbiter to test its space station subsystems and components beginning this year with missions in June and October. These will be the second and third Orbiter missions, following the first in January, which failed after the power systems malfunctioned.

Haot said the company is disappointed in the outcome of its first mission but that the team knows “exactly what went wrong.”

A rendering of an artificial gravity space station being developed by Vast Space, the latest aerospace firm to relocate its headquarters to Long Beach. Courtesy of Vast.

Orbiter currently reaches space through rideshare missions aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9, Haot said, but it is compatible with most launch systems, including those from Long Beach companies such as Rocket Lab. For now, Haot said SpaceX remains the cheapest rideshare option.

Launcher previously had the intention of developing its own launch system, but that effort has been abandoned as the priority shifts to the space station, Haot said. He added that the company will continue to invest in the E-2 engine as he thinks it is a much more powerful and reliable system than other proprietary engines.

Haot said many other companies are or are likely to “suffer from low-performance engines” that are not capable of carrying advertised payload sizes to orbit, which could lead them to seek another already available option such as the E-2.

The Vast station, meanwhile, is in the early stages of development. Preliminary designs call for a 100-meter-long space station, which will have the capacity to house more than 40 people—a large increase from the seven that can be accommodated aboard the International Space Station.

The ISS is set to be retired in 2030, NASA announced early last year. The forthcoming retirement after over three decades led the space agency to develop the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program to support the development of commercially owned and operated space stations, which Vast hopes to take advantage of.

Previously announced CLD organizations include Axiom Space, Blue Origin, NanoRacks and Northrop Grumman.

There is still not a solidified timeline for when Vast’s station will reach orbit, Haot said. The process requires many milestones, and the first artificial gravity station likely won’t be in orbit for a decade or longer.

The first space station will be zero gravity similar to the ISS, he said. Information on upcoming phases of the mission will be announced soon, Haot said, but for now the company is staying tight-lipped.

“We are keeping it close to our chests,” Haot said. “Our goal is to tell the community very clearly a timeline, a goal. We’re excited that we’re going to announce it pretty soon … but not yet.”

Vast Space joins Long Beach’s booming aerospace economy

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.