Pathfinder is Payload’s flagship podcast covering the booming business and pressing policy matters of space. We sit down weekly with the top shot-callers in space to keep you informed, entertained, and up-to date on the top news and trends beyond Earth. In this ~1 hour, talk show-style podcast, Pathfinder host Ryan Duffy interviews astronauts, administrators, founders, CEOs, military minds, policymakers, and more.
Live Earth Catalog: Emiliano Kargieman on starting Satellogic, Earth observation, small launch, and constellation economics
On today’s Pathfinder, we sit down with Emiliano Kargieman, who is CEO and cofounder of Satellogic ($SATL). Originally started in Buenos Aires, the now-global ~$500M microsat operator is deploying a LEO constellation and aims to develop a high-res, live catalog of Earth.
By the end of 2023, Satellogic hopes to have 60+ satellites in orbit (and 200+ by 2025). The company made $4.2 million in 2021, the year it began selling and delivering imagery to customers.
Today’s Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems (https://spideroak-ms.com/), an industry leader in cybersecurity. Check out the company’s space cyber whitepaper at spacecyber.com
0:00 - Intro
2:05 - Satellogic’s presence all over the world, from Buenos Aires to the Netherlands
4:35 - What does operating a multinational satellite company look like during a global pandemic?
6:34 - Emiliano has had the entrepreneurial bug from a young age, since he was programming computers as a 9 year old
10:42 - The inception story of Satellogic, building a more efficient way to observe Earth and remap the planet, all the way up until 2020
14:49 - What characteristics set Satellogic apart from other smallsat constellations?
20:22 - Sub meter resolution optical cameras and multispectral cameras being used in object identification and classification in Earth observation (EO)
24:53 - What role do sales and marketing play in reaching new customers in commercial markets?
31:01 - Emiliano’s list of technology and financial trends that made his business possible, from the canonical drop in launch costs to the standardization of launch interfaces and more
37:03 - What are your biggest bottlenecks or constraints: resolution limits or government regulations?
43:45 - What is a DSC, or dedicated satellite constellation? How does it tie in with space-as-a-service? And why might national governments want to tap DSCs?
46:33 - Satellogic’s operations over Ukraine and their efforts to aid the country and other NATO members
50:11 - Being a non-US company listed in the United States, and the positives and negatives of the decision to go public via SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger
55:12 - Emiliano’s hottest take, or most contrarian view, on the space industry…His answer The future of the space economy will match the economy on Planet Earth
56:27 - Will Emiliano’s daughter go on to work in the space industry?
57:26 - Advice for students, especially from the Global South, who are looking to break into the space industry
Satellogic's website: https://satellogic.com/ Emiliano's Twitter: https://twitter.com/earlkman?lang=en
Emiliano's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ekargieman/?originalSubdomain=ar Payload's first
Q+A with Emiliano: https://payloadspace.com/satellogic-interview/
Satellogic and Astraea Ukraine imagery collaboration: https://payloadspace.com/satellogic-and-astraea-create-platform-for-ukraine-imagery/
Satellogic launches new satellites on SpaceX's Transporter-4 mission: https://payloadspace.com/spacex-launches-transporter-4/
And SpaceX's Transporter-5 mission: https://payloadspace.com/spacex-launches-transporter-5/
Pathfinder is brought to you by Payload, a modern space media brand. While we have designs on becoming the biggest space content company in the galaxy, for now, we send newsletters and publish podcasts. Subscribe to our flagship industry-leading daily newsletter at payloadspace.com
Tackling space trash: Dr. Moriba Jah on Privateer's gameplan, protecting the orbital commons, and how we perceive risk
On today's episode of the Pathfinder podcast, we’re tackling the topic of space junk. We’re very fortunate to have Dr. Moriba Jah, one of the world’s foremost authorities on this topic, joining us this week.
Moriba is an astrodynamicist, space environmentalist, and associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT Austin (obligatory 'hook em' from Ryan). Moriba is also the chief scientist and cofounder of Privateer, with Alex Fielding and Steve “Woz” Wozniak. Privateer, which stayed highly secretive until relatively recently, bills itself as “a data and intelligence platform empowering the future of space sustainability.”
Today’s Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems (www.spideroak-ms.com), an industry leader in cybersecurity.
In the simplest of terms, Moriba specializes in studying and predicting the motion of objects in space. It’s a hot topic at the moment, given recent uncontrolled spacecraft reentries, the growing pile of junk in LEO, and the rising importance of space domain awareness (SDA) and space traffic management (STM).
Moriba walks us through his framework for thinking about the orbital commons. Among other things, we discuss…
The perception of risk and uncertainty
The criticality of accurate measurements
How, when, and where national governments are responsible and liable for debris build-up and the downstream consequences
The geopolitical calculus of maintaining the orbital commons, and the challenges of multilateral coordination
Moriba’s efforts to “recruit empathy” for space environmentalism and reach a wide swath of the general public
A tragedy of the orbital commons…but also, reasons to be optimistic
In the back half of the episode, we focus on Privateer and work through the following questions:
Where does the startup get its data and how could the wisdom of crowds come into play?
What does the tech stack look like?
How is Privateer thinking about its own orbital assets and hosted payloads? Where will it buy vs. build?
What types of organizations will be the power users of Privateer’s platform and the Wayfinder product, if the startup succeeds in its goal?
Come for Moriba’s insightful takes on the serious matters at hand; stay for the dog cameo, keto detour, and wearable technology talk.
A deeptech skunkworks: Jordan Noone on 3D printing, Relativity, KittyCAD, and Embedded Ventures
Today’s guest is Jordan Noone, the cofounder and founding CTO of Relativity Space. Noone now holds the same titles at Embedded Ventures, a self-described deeptech VC “skunkworks” that Noone runs with cofounder Jenna Bryant. Embedded Ventures has partnered with the US Space Force on R&D, and backed early-stage startups like Slingshot Aerospace and Inversion. Jordan is also the cofounder and CEO of KittyCAD, which aims to reinvent how engineers and companies create hardware products.
On the Relativity front, Jordan helped scale up the company’s additive manufacturing capabilities and hone the rest of the startup’s tech stack. Today, Relativity’s Terran 1 is vertical on the pad in Florida for final tests, before the company conducts an orbital launch attempt this summer. Terran 1 is a 110-foot-tall expendable rocket, and according to Relativity, the largest 3D printed object to exist and to attempt orbital flight. Relativity’s first Terran 1 is 85% 3D printed by mass.
Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems, (http://www.spideroak-ms.com) an industry leader in space cybersecurity. Check out their space whitepaper at spacecyber.com
And now without further ado, here’s a glimpse into the range of discussion topics in today’s episode:
—Background in brief
—Jordan’s rebellious streaks as a student and his take on medieval history
—Heading up USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab, a finishing school for rocket junkies
—Interning, then working full-time, at SpaceX
—Meeting cofounder Tim Ellis (who was on Pathfinder #0009)
—Becoming the youngest person to get an FAA license to launch a rocket to space
—Getting accepted into and graduating from Y Combinator (YC W16, to be exact)
—The advantages of 3D printing combustion chambers, engines, and other rocket parts
—All the other aspects of Relativity’s tech stack that differentiate it from other rocket makers
—Why Jordan left Relativity after roughly five years
—Bringing the design and product ethos of Silicon Valley to the world of defense
—Graduating from startup founder to the other side of the boardroom table: VC investor
—Market conditions and what Jordan’s seeing with pricing rounds, startup valuations, etc.
—The downstream effects of space SPACs on future industry financing
—Conflicted cap tables and the geopolitical aspects of venture capital
—Leading KittyCAD, which brings software automation to the hardware world
—Building the Stripe of the hardware world
…and much more! This was a long one, and there’s plenty of other great nuggets and stories buried in the full episode. We’ll leave it to you to discover them yourselves.
Today’s episode is Pathfinder #0010, which means we’ve made it into the double digits. So far, so good. We’ll see you soon at Pathfinder #0100.
Pathfinder is brought to you by Payload, a modern space media brand that also publishes newsletters and hosts events around the US. Subscribe to our industry-leading daily newsletter at payloadspace.com
See you back here next week!
Printing Rockets: Relativity's Tim Ellis on making life multiplanetary, Terran 1's maiden flight, and the economics of launch
On today’s episode of Pathfinder, we’re joined by Tim Ellis, the CEO and cofounder of Relativity Space. Tim was in his twenties when he started Relativity Space with cofounder Jordan Noone six and a half years ago.
Fast forward to today. Relativity’s 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket is at the pad in Cape Canaveral and an orbital launch is “weeks away,” Tim tells us.
Relativity also recently announced that it’s secured more than $1.2B+ worth of launch agreements for the forthcoming, fully reusable Terran R rocket. There are more customer contract announcements to come, Tim says. In fact, just since we recorded 12 days ago, Relativity announced a highly ambitious commercial Mars mission with Impulse Space.
Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems, an industry leader in space cybersecurity.
What we cover in Pathfinder #0009…a sneak peek
Tim’s non-linear path into aerospace at USC, where he was part of the first student group to launch a rocket to space and interned back-to-back-to-back at Blue Origin
Then, Tim and Jordan would go on to get accepted into Y Combinator, cold-email Mark Cuban, and successfully pitch their pre-revenue, pre-product startup to other big investors.
Relativity is scaling headcount quickly. Relativity had 100 employees before Covid; it now has 850 and expects to hit 1,000 soon.
The company is also ramping up production, having expanded into a 1M square foot facility in Long Beach, CA. “Our momentum towards Terran R is significant,” Tim says.
We walk through the unique parts of Relativity’s rocket-making stack, from propulsion to reusability to additive manufacturing.
3D printing is “the holy grail of automation technologies for aerospace,” Tim opines, and Relativity’s 3D printing efforts span a few hundred employees. Eventually, the company’s 3D printers may be useful in other industries.
We ask Tim how he’s navigating market turbulence and whether Relativity A) has taken a valuation haircut, B) will need to raise again soon, or C) if it ever considered going public via SPAC.
Tim shares his thoughts on the economics of launch and where the market is saturated vs. undersupplied.
…and much more. Over the course of an hour, our conversation took us from writing novels and Fight Club to interplanetary travel and chilling on Mars with a Corona. We hope you’ll learn as much as we did.
Up the Stack: Kevin Weil on leading product at Planet, Earth observation, going public, and Ukraine
On this week's episode of the Pathfinder podcast, Ryan sits down with Kevin Weil, president of product and business at Planet ($PL), a ~$1.3B Earth-imaging company based in San Francisco.
Kevin joined Planet last April to accelerate software and data product development (or help the company move “up the stack”). Before he worked in commercial space, Kevin held leadership roles at Silicon Valley mainstays that have become household names, like Twitter and Instagram. He managed products with hundreds of millions of daily active users.
Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems — www.spideroak-ms.com — an industry leader in space cybersecurity.
Sneak peek of our conversation
Kevin’s journey from studying particle physics to Silicon Valley startups and quickly shipping code
Twitter’s leadership taking a chance on Kevin and how he grew with the company from 2009 to 2016
Working at an autonomous Instagram and eventually cofounding Meta’s cryptocurrency project
What convinced Kevin to jump ship to the new space industry?
How much of Kevin’s experience was transferable from the consumer social world to product at Planet?
Selling to governments vs. commercial users
The “one-to-many” model and what Planet does differently than competitors
Going public via SPAC and the pressures of being publicly traded
“Our growth is accelerating” and “we have a proven business model”
Acquiring VanderSat and launching Planetary Variables
Planet imagery shaping the general public’s understanding of the Ukraine war
“Bringing transparency is a massive positive, even if sometimes that means you capture some of the bad things that happen in the world.”
How does Planet prevent abuse or misuse of its data and imagery?
What does Kevin wish he could change overnight in the EO industry?
Kevin's Twitter handle: twitter.com/kevinweil
Check out Planet’s Snapshots newsletter: learn.planet.com/Snapshots_newsletter_Subscription.html
Via Planet CEO Will Marshall, announcing Kevin's hiring last March - planet.com/pulse/preparing-to-scale-planet-welcomes-kevin-weil-as-president-product-and-business/ - "It’s a delight that our business increasingly looks like that of a software company, with product features driven by software advances that deliver value on top of our satellite data. As Planet accelerates as a data and analytics company, we’re bringing on top Silicon Valley software talent to add to Planet’s team. Which brings me to Kevin.
Kevin is a proven leader with a track record of leading software and data product organizations through hyper-growth, and delivering market-making customer solutions — a mindset and body of experience that aligns perfectly with Planet’s high-growth business objectives.
Kevin has built and scaled teams and products at the world’s fastest growing and most consequential companies. Kevin was one of Twitter’s first 50 employees and ultimately became its SVP of Product, leading its consumer, developer, and monetization products as the company went public and scaled to over $2bn in revenue."
Pathfinder is brought to you by Payload, a modern space media brand. Subscribe to our industry-leading daily newsletter at payloadspace.com
The Orbital Age: Sierra Space's Tom Vice on Dream Chaser, Orbital Reef, and his space restaurant
On this week's episode of the Pathfinder podcast, Ryan sits down with Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. His one-year anniversary as chief executive is one week from today (July 19). In the last year, Sierra has:
- Raised a $1.4B (yes, billion) Series A.
- Announced that it will build the Orbital Reef space station with Blue Origin, Boeing, Redwire, and others.
- Readied Dream Chaser for its first orbital flight and identified new runways around the world for the spaceplane to land.
- Created an astronaut program, led by company president and former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi.
So, needless to say, Sierra has been keeping busy. We couldn't have picked a better time to talk with Tom and check in on the company's progress.
Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems — www.spideroak-ms.com — an industry leader in space cybersecurity. Check out the company’s space cybersecurity white paper at spacecyber.com
Pathfinder 0007 topics:
Tom's resume. He spent a few decades rising through the ranks and eventually served as president of Northrop Grumman’s aerospace unit before he moved into startupland.
What he can talk about from his Northrop days (ie, what's been declassified) vs. what still requires a security clearance
Air and space are the proving ground for autonomy technologies
Why did the space company spin out of Sierra Nevada Corp. last year?
Sierra Space's cap table and fortifying the balance sheet before a market downtown
The space platform play...Dream Chaser is the transportation, Orbital Reef is the destination, and then there's all the space applications
What's the best historical precedent or analogy for where the space industry is at in this moment in time?
Tom's visions for the future, with a constellation of private space stations and thousands living and working in space
Sierra's growth from 1,000 employees at the end of 2021 to 1,800+ now
For All Mankind
When is Tom going to space?
...and more. There's plenty of mind-boggling bits baked into this conversation, from manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum to peering back in time with JWST to Tom's concept for an Asian fusion restaurant in low-Earth orbit.
Tom's LinkedIn bio: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomvice/
The two parts of the bio we discuss: 1) "It is amazing to me that today we are flying at the same speed we were in 1958 when the Boeing 707 was introduced. In general aviation, the speed of the aircraft has only improved by 10% over 50 years."
2) "We will enable humanity to live, work, explore, and vacation in Space!"
Just listened to the first episode. Top notch podcast.