CEO Josh Hanes is positioning the startup on a trajectory that starts with creative collaborations in space before elevating to manufacturing on the Moon.
“I’ve always been passionate about aerospace,” says Hanes.
He returned to aerospace after a stint working in private equity in Houston, moving back to his home state of Utah to launch Uplift Aerospace in 2019.
“I watched the aerospace industry very closely for many years, and in about 2018, one of the trends we saw was a lot of the technology we saw in the prototype phase or under development had finally come to market,” says Hanes. “In 2019, we started formalizing contracts with different aerospace organizations.”
The short-term plan involves collaborations with brands and artists on innovative projects in conjunction with NASA and companies like Blue Origin.
In the long term, Uplift is working on a plan to manufacture on the Moon and other in-space environments. “We’re trying to build the future of commerce in space for consumer goods,” says Hanes.
The company’s inaugural project, in collaboration with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo and Blue Origin, launched in August 2021. His triptych of paintings on the top of the crew capsule on the main chute covers were the first works by an African artist launched into space.
“It turned out really well,” says Hanes. “It was the first-of-its-kind type of artwork going into space. We worked with our own team to be able to figure out what type of paints and materials to use. When it came back, we sent it to a lab, and we’ll be releasing a report on the findings of what happened to the paints from a microscopic viewpoint.”
He adds, “We are forming collaborations with artists from around the world with really unique, one-off type of projects that are either historic in some way or tell a powerful story.”
Next up: “We just got a contract with NASA to put a vault on the space station, basically, on the space station that will act as an exhibition platform for top brands and artists. That deploys next year.”
Explains Hanes: “NASA has a directive to create economy, or commerce, in space. One of their main efforts is to grow access to space; access increases normally when you have commerce. If you can facilitate commerce and bring in more players to the actual location, that will spur innovation and it will spur decreased costs, which gives more access.”
Uplift’s long-term manufacturing play involves using lunar regolith as the base material for Luna-Crete. Testing simulations are currently underway in partnership with Florida-based Exolith Lab. “We created the first south pole-specific Luna-Crete,” says Hanes. “We worked with Exolith Labs to be able to create a simulant that would approximate what you’d find on the lunar south pole with regards to chemical composition.”
The early results: “The south pole regolith is a great base material to create concretes on the Moon. The south pole is ideal because of the temperatures at specific times of the year that remain relatively consistent and temperate, so that you can do manufacturing.”
The company’s ultimate ambition is “to be able to build the infrastructure for commerce in space, and that includes manufacturing,” says Hanes. “We have an R&D arm of Uplift that we’re looking at how to use lunar regolith — how to process it into usable, high-value materials, whether that’s water or different aggregate sizes or oxygen or rocket fuel.”
It sounds like science fiction, but the company has gained serious traction in the first three years of its existence. “Something, when it comes to more of the utopian aspect, is the idea of moving all manufacturing off the planet,” says Hanes. “That’s really part of the drive for everybody: using space to protect and conserve the Earth, and that’s part of our mission as a company.”
As Uplift moves towards those goals, Hanes sees no reason to shift gears from the current nimble model. “We are a smaller company, and because a lot of these technologies are just coming to market, we’ve found that there’s a high desire to collaborate,” he says. “So we can leverage really advanced technologies to not only accomplish our objectives, but accelerate our company’s road map to get to the Moon. Next year, we’re going to the space station, and our aim in the next five years is to get to the Moon.”
The business is building the foundation for that now in more ways than one. In 2021, NRP Stone, a publicly traded company, acquired Uplift Aerospace.
“What I have learned: We are in the future right now,” says Hanes. “This technology exists and is readily accessible. Collaborators want to make these projects happen — they have the ability to do it — so we’re in a new Apollo moment where access to space is here again.”
Challenges: “Within the private sector, it’s a relatively young market,” says Hanes. “The risk is that it can be highly volatile. If something goes wrong, it could affect it.”
That applies doubly to Uplift’s long-term manufacturing plans, but the company’s short- and long-term strategies are designed to help mitigate that risk.
Opportunities: More space stations. Right now, there are two space stations — the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong — orbiting Earth, but numerous deployments are in the works, including private space stations from a Sierra Space-Blue Origin Orbital Reef partnership and Lockheed Martin along with NASA’s lunar Gateway.
“We’re already forming collaborations to support scaling,” says Hanes. “The more private industry comes in, the more drive there will be to provide greater access. It’s not going to be a billionaire’s club or international organizations or nations, it’s going to be more accessible to people year by year. We’ll see prices drop dramatically every single year.”
Needs: “Obviously, funding is a need,” says Hanes. “As part of our Q3 disclosures, we announced that we are doing a private offering.”
Recruiting “high-caliber talent” is also key, he adds. “We’re growing our team quickly.”