Vector’s launch business in peril after ‘major change in financing’

Small satellite launch startup Vector has indefinitely shut down operations “in response to a major change in financing,” the company confirmed. Co-founder and CEO Jim Cantrell has also been cut loose.

The news comes as a surprise to the space startup community, and apparently to its employees. The company lined up $70 million in funding late last year, and recently was announced as a qualified contestant in DARPA’s Launch Challenge. It even pulled in a multimillion-dollar Air Force contract just last week.

That something must have gone awry with this latest funding is manifest. But just what, or who, is unclear. I’m contacting the venture firms in the round (Kodem, Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners, Sequoia, Lightspeed and Shasta Ventures) and will update if anyone has any substantial comment.

The company offered the following statement, as well as confirming that Cantrell is out:

In response to a major change in financing, Vector has had to pause its operations. A core team is now evaluating options to complete the development of the company’s Vector R small launch vehicle while also supporting the Air Force and other government agencies on programs such as the recent ASLON-45 award.
I’ve asked for more details on the size of this “core team” and how many employees Vector will have to lay off as part of this “pause” in operations.

Vector has been working on an orbital launch vehicle, the Vector-R, with a 60 kilogram maximum payload — a small rocket for small satellites, for which there is plenty of demand. A heavier version that could lift 290 kg was also under development.

Plans were to demonstrate an orbital launch by the end of 2019, but as yet that has not occurred; a suborbital launch was also planned for sometime this summer, but that too is yet to happen.

Perhaps the launch delays were the cause of the funding problems, or perhaps the funding problems led to launch delays. I’ll update this story as soon as more details are available.