Nanoracks Bishop airlock installed on the International Space Station.
Voyager Space Holdings' fourth acquisition in just over a year since its inception is a controlling stake in the parent company of Nanoracks, a space services and hardware specialist that has dispatched more than 1,000 missions to the International Space Station.
"Nanoracks is a cornerstone for us when it comes to adding some significant functionality in space," Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, told CNBC.
Voyager intends to acquire a majority stake in X.O. Markets, the holding company for Nanoracks, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.
While Voyager Space Holdings did not disclose the financial details of the deal – Taylor merely remarked that "we are putting quite a lot of money into the business" to make it grow – those familiar with the deal told CNBC that Voyager plans to will invest more than $ 50 million worth of nanoracks in the coming year.
The majority stake in X.O. Markets is Voyager's fourth deal since it was founded in October 2019. The company previously had rocket and spacecraft services specialist The Launch Company, satellite services company Altius Space Machines, and Pioneer Astronautics, the research and development company of Dr. Robert Zubrin, best known for his talks with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about building a permanent human presence on Mars.
"We're an operating company, not a fund. This is how we put skills together," said Taylor. "Once we have all of these skills put together, we can have an overwhelming impact on the industry by being able to carry out really complex and meaningful missions in space."
Jeff Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, said he began looking for new capital last summer, including a special purpose vehicle [SPAC] review of the IPO. But Manber told CNBC that he didn't want to "spend my next two years" talking to Wall Street investors and "figuring out how to take it" instead of focusing on running and growing his business.
"With Voyager, we have a platform that enables us to grow into the entire development of the infrastructure for in-space services, with a financial sophistication and synergy that we honestly wouldn't have on our own," said Manber. "They give us the stability. They give us the platform. They give us some of the expertise that we don't have today."
In turn, Manber sees Nanoracks as the "core" of Voyager's space effort, with new access to the company's mission control room in Houston, Texas, as well as facilities across the country, and talent who have experience working with a variety of payloads gone into space .
Nanoracks: & # 39; The guys from the space station & # 39;
The Bishop airlock, built by Nanoracks, will be installed on the International Space Station via the Canadarm2 robot.
The deal also comes after Nanoracks reached important milestones on Saturday in installing its Bishop Airlock on the International Space Station. Nanoracks fully funded the development and manufacture of the airlock and launched it on a SpaceX cargo mission to the ISS on December 6th.
Bishop is the first private airlock to add five times the payload capacity of the current government-operated JEM airlock. NASA noted that the addition of Bishop "significantly increases the capacity for public and private research," which "also allows the use of larger satellites and the transfer of space-grade tools and hardware inside and outside the station."
"Nanoracks are the largest commercial user of the International Space Station," said Manber. "We are the people of space stations – we understand space stations better than probably any commercial emerging company in the world."
Nanoracks employs around 70 people worldwide and is headquartered in Houston. The company is also represented in Washington, DC, Turin, Italy and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Manber sees the growth of nanoracks in a strategy of three pillars, the first of which is the current use of the ISS.
"The Bishop airlock is our biggest growth catalyst for the future," said Manber.
But "the space station is aging," said Manber, and he would like nanoracks to be involved in "private space stations with market orientation" in the future. He expects "small private space stations", each focused on individual markets, to be introduced in the next decade with "some hotels and some for professional astronauts". The "second pillar" of Nanoracks is the outpost program, which aims to turn the large discarded fuel tanks of rockets around the earth into small space stations.
The first demonstration of Nanoracks' outpost technology, named Mars Demo-1, is set to launch on a SpaceX ridesharing flight in June 2021. The mission will use a robotic arm to cut metal material in space to demonstrate that Nanoracks can safely cut missile tanks to turn them into revolving hubs. Manber hopes that Nanoracks will start a follow-up mission in 2023 and then "stay longer and longer in space each year and rebuild these otherwise empty platforms".
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launches on November 15, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Es & # 39; hail-2 communications satellite for the country of Qatar.
NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images
"The third pillar is to become a space exploration customer," said Manber. "In-space research is a market that has been completely dominated by the government and is funded by space agencies that occasionally involve a trading company such as a pharmaceutical company or an [agricultural] technology company."
Nanoracks' in-space research service would help more companies "take advantage of the harsh environment of space to develop new products".
Manber described his three-pillar strategy as "emulating what SpaceX does" by taking over a core business and then steadily building on it.
“This industry is getting very serious now and an important one from a commercial point of view,“ Manber. ”The more [Nanoracks] talked to a number of family funds and hedge funds, the more I've looked at them and seen the way the industry is goes. "
Joining Voyager is Manber's way of aligning Nanoracks so that there isn't a single project or program that it depends on for success.
Voyager aims to go public in late 2021
Rocket 3.2 is on the launchpad in Kodiak, Alaska.
Astra / John Kraus
Taylor explained that one disadvantage of building an operational business is that "really no more than four deals a year can be effectively or productively done" because Voyager does not create a "brand portfolio" but works to integrate them as a cohesive whole . Still, Taylor said that Voyager has about a dozen acquisitions "in our pipeline under various due diligence" and expects to announce another two or three by summer 2021.
"And then it's still our wish … to try to go public sometime late next year," said Taylor.
He intends to bring Voyager to the public via the traditional IPO route and says "it is valuable to go through the S-1 process".
In the meantime, Voyager wants to add companies that build spacecraft components and specialists in software – also known as GNC or guidance, navigation and control. Taylor says Voyager will at some point "look at a launch capability," which means a rocket builder like SpaceX or Rocket Lab, but he doesn't expect that to happen in the next year.
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