Jed McCaleb, the billionaire crypto entrepreneur known for feuding with co-founders at Ripple Labs, has decided to get into the space station business with a company called Vast.
The International Space Station (ISS) will go into retirement in 2030 — opening the door for private companies to build habitats that can house astronauts in low-orbit. Vast sets itself apart from the competition by claiming it will develop a space station with artificial gravity, just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“We’re at the beginning of this explosion of activity in orbit and in space generally,” said McCaleb in an interview with Quartz.
“A lot of that will require people in the loop to bring down the prices for things we really can’t do remotely or robotically at this point. There will be demand for multiple stations. We will be one of the first, if not the first,” (our emphasis).
Building a port with artificial gravity is a lofty project that’s never been done. It’s even loftier for a man who has zero experience in the aerospace industry.
The ISS can only house astronauts for short periods of time — thanks to microgravity, prolonged exposure runs the risk of permanent health problems. McCaleb’s Vast, founded in 2021, will require a cutting edge team of engineers to pull off a station with artificial gravity.
It’s still in the preliminary stages of hiring, but Vast has already attracted talent like Hans Koenigsmann, a former VP at SpaceX. Whether McCaleb can convince the most intelligent people on Earth to stick with him at Vast is another matter.
McCaleb carries baggage into Vast
McCaleb has often been described as a genius. Indeed, he’s a talented cryptographer and coder who got started in tech with eDonkey2000, a Napster-esque platform that got shut down by authorities.
After Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, he founded the now-infamous crypto exchange Mt. Gox. By 2013, it was handling over 70% of bitcoin transactions. A year later, it filed for bankruptcy after a major hack.
McCaleb claims he left the firm before then, only he still sat on its board and owned 12% of shares. It’s also suspected the money was lost far before it was announced, when McCaleb was still playing an active role. Reports say extremely lax security measures were taken by staff, including McCaleb, which may have enabled the hack.
More concerning for Vast employees should be the major public fallout McCaleb had with the other co-founders of Ripple Labs. Tensions with then-CEO Chris Larsen led to a dramatic decision for McCaleb to leave — according to the Observer, the feud involved “sex, huge money, fraud, genius, betrayal, international intrigue, and government raids.”
Insiders say McCaleb’s judgement had been clouded by his girlfriend, whom he hired in a role reminiscent of Larsen’s: chief engagement officer.
After his exit, McCaleb publicly announced he would soon be dumping all of his XRP — about $45 million at the time, or 12% of the token’s supply — likely because doing so would destabilise Ripple entirely.
The entrepreneur was slapped with lawsuits. Settlements were agreed to and McCaleb could only dump his XRP in growing increments over seven years. He dumped his last load earlier this year.
McCaleb then launched Stellar, a spin-off of Ripple, and has now 180’d with the launch of Vast. Let’s hope this crypto billionaire doesn’t fly too close to the sun.