Noise complaints help bring down launch startup SpaceRyde

TAMPA, Fla. – Canadian launch startup SpaceRyde has filed for bankruptcy just months after noise complaints put an end to rocket engine testing.

The five-year-old company, which had been developing a rocket that would use a stratospheric balloon as a first stage, filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 10 and named Deloitte as a trustee to look after its business.

SpaceRyde raised about $10 million from a mix of early-stage investors and government awards, but it needed more funds ahead of a target to start commercial launches in 2024 with a 20-meter-tall rocket.

The plan was to charge customers $250,000 for delivering payloads weighing less than 25 kilograms to low Earth orbit (LEO) using SpaceRyde’s three-stage Ryder rocket, which would fire the engines after a balloon lifted it above most of of Earth’s atmosphere.

In addition to cubesats, the company said Ryder could accommodate satellites weighing 100 to 150 kilograms for a maximum launch cost of $1 million.

The venture planned to launch test payloads to sub-orbit and LEO this year before commercial flights.

Planned customers included Qosmosys, a Singapore venture planning satellite racing games, and a subsidiary of Dutch cubesat maker Innovative Solutions In Space.

Further down the line, SpaceRyde also had plans to fly a demonstration mission in late 2024 to go around the moon and back to expand its business.

It’s a challenging market for space startups as difficult macroeconomic conditions weigh on their access to capital.

Small launch startups, in particular, have to deal with high start-up costs in a market where SpaceX is trying to increase its dominance by cutting prices.

For SpaceRyde CEO Sohrab Haghighat, who co-founded the startup with his wife Saharnaz Safari, there was an even bigger hurdle to overcome.

“Our problem wasn’t a lack of interest,” Haghighat said, adding that the startup was “perfectly positioned product and price”.

Instead, the company ran into a testing hurdle last year that Haghighat described as “one of the biggest problems — maybe the biggest problem we’ve had.”

He declined to provide further details.

The Trent Hills Municipality in Ontario asked SpaceRyde to halt engine tests on a rural lot in the region on Oct. 7 following noise complaints.

When SpaceRyde purchased the land, “the understanding at the time was that it would be a temporary operation focused on supporting the business of testing balloon technology to put satellites into orbit,” said Trent Hills Mayor Bob Crate during a meeting of the council on September 13.

A petition started last year to stop tests of the SpaceRyde rocket engine that it says can be “heard for many miles” has received more than 800 signatures.

Trent Hills County said SpaceRyde can continue testing if it gets approval for a new planning application.

“To date, no planning requests have been received by the municipality proposing any changes to the use of the site,” the municipality said in a February 9 update.

The council also said there had been no rocket engine tests at the site since asking SpaceRyde to stop them.

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