Ian Fichtenbaum is the founder and CEO of SpaceRig, a spacecraft logistics company. 


What’s the elevator pitch for SpaceRig?

SpaceRig is a spacecraft provisioning and logistics company. For an era of frequent launches, and where space operators need to focus on operations, SpaceRig provides responsive vehicle build, delivery, and logistics services.

What are spacecraft provisioning and logistics? What led you to found SpaceRig?

With a spacecraft launch rate going from 20 to 100 launches a year out of Cape Canaveral (and more out of other spaceports), the industry is rearranging itself. We’re not just talking about imaging and telecom anymore, we’re talking about in-space servicing, data centers, tugs, and other beyond-Earth applications, so you’re talking about a bunch of new applications mostly being pursued by new commercial operators. That means the supply chain has to adapt to this new mode of operation. Those operators need spacecraft to show up at the launch site in a timely manner, provided to them commercially, and with ease of adaptation and processing. From this era of frequent launches, there became a realization that nobody really has the infrastructure to provide those services in a manner that the operators want.

Additionally, most spacecraft integrators in the United States are government contractors that are located at various hubs around the country such as Colorado, California, and the Pacific Northwest. At the end of the day, the main drivers for spaceports are location. The types of spacecrafts people are building are getting larger and more propellant-laden, so logistically it requires people to think about a few things. First, you have to think about geography. Where is the busiest launch site in the world? What does it mean to be close to it? What does it mean to service pre-launch logistics? Then you have to think about the kinds of things you want to be doing. You have to think about the integration, the design, and the supply chain. You also have to think about what components are going to be meaningful for systems that people want to build. Since the applications people are building are for in-space servicing, tugs, and other beyond-Earth applications, the build philosophy is different. We at SpaceRig want to provide operators with the services they need. So SpaceRig does not revolve around a particular technology, it is more about a mode of operations and services that we believe the community of operators is going to want now and in the future.

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What issues are spacecraft operators facing and how does SpaceRig alleviate those problems?

A lot of the supply chain capacity right now has been taken up by various big constellations, such as NASA’s OneWeb and Kuiper. Although everyone has developed a bit of their own supply chain, they’re all reaching into many of the same pockets. Moreover, when building a spacecraft you have to think about integration, fueling, and transport. These are the kinds of things that everyone has to deal with that are more than just building. Currently, everyone has to go out to the launch site and do the processing either with launch operators or a third party. There is no streamlined process. 

This then becomes a bigger issue with newer applications as it means you are still dealing with a lot of contractors that are either focused on constellations, or on government work. SpaceRig is different in the sense that part of our strategy is the identification of the supply chain on a very strategic level and integrating it within a ground processing strategy. How to make that process as fast as possible? I like to think we’re building the company by solving the logistical issues that many people deal with. 

You’ve just received $1.7 million from Space Force (through the AFWERX/SpaceWERX TacRS Challenge). Why is a company like SpaceRig interested in spacecraft logistics?

In essence, SpaceRig is providing responsive space as a service. If someone wants to do operations in space, we want to help them integrate all the components. Not every player in this sector is going to be able to raise X millions of dollars to create their own integration center so SpaceRig is an alternative to having to integrate your own integration center. Focusing on being a spacecraft operator versus being a spacecraft builder are two different things with different skill sets, capital structures, and cost of capital. So SpaceRig is really trying to place itself as a builder and service provider to all these new operators. 

What is SpaceRig’s vision?

Our vision is a physical plant and since it requires a lot of infrastructure, I like to say that we are currently building the company step-by-step, but backward. We’re looking into problems that we can solve early on that don’t require millions of dollars to start new infrastructure. So we have been working on innovating transportation and handling and also specifically propellant loading. This is what we mean by ‘backward’ since these are usually the last steps in preparing a spacecraft for launch. 

Right now we are on a direct to phase two with AFWERX, a tactically responsive space program. Since propellant loading can take up to a week and it is an expensive, hazardous, labor-consuming process, we are trying to create an automated setup that takes just a few hours and requires fewer hands and labor. 

Additionally regarding spacecraft transportation, right now small spacecrafts are being shipped by FedEx or UPS, and very large spacecraft are being shipped in fancy containers but there is no good solution for anything in the middle. We are looking at how we can address those challenges as part of our service. SpaceRig is in the business of getting systems prepared and ready to launch. In a world where spacecraft, laden with propellant, are going out to space twice a day, things need to become more systematized. That is where we come in.