Ep. 01

Fueling Up in Space

When Joel Sercel says that his company is “a space resources and logistics company,” he’s being technically accurate.

Yes, TransAstra, of which Joel is the founder and CEO, is currently focused on solving the problem of how to source fuel in space. But Joel is also being galactically modest here. Because his ultimate vision involves a not-too-distant future in which people are living in Earth-like habitats in space.

“Our mission,” Joel says, “is to build the transportation network in space that will enable massive space industrialization and space settlement.”

“Human beings are fundamentally hunter gatherers. We need a frontier. And we just happen to live at a time when that frontier is waiting. And we have the tech to make it happen. So, I don't understand why people work on anything else.”

Like all insanely disruptive ideas, Joel has found a way to start with an immediate need: improving rocket propulsion. More specifically, finding a more powerful and cost-effective way to transport Low Earth Orbit satellites from launch rockets to their orbital destinations.

Joel’s invention is the Worker Bee, a sort of space taxi that runs on water and sunlight.

The Worker Bee can give an entire satellite constellation a cosmic lift, then stay in space, ready for the next launch rocket to arrive.

And while they wait, they are refueled with water shipped up from Earth. At least for now, because the next logical step, as Joel says, “is to harvest it locally from asteroids.”

In addition to the Worker Bee, TransAstra is developing spacecraft that can mine these asteroids. The Honey Bee can mine a 10-meter asteroid, and the Queen Bee can handle a 40-meter space rock.

Water that’s extracted from the satellite is then delivered to and stored in fuel deposits.

This early phase of space logistics, according to Joel, is “projected to be in excess of $5 billion by the end of 2025. And a total of probably $60 billion of addressable customer work over the next 10 years.”

TransAstra’s Logistics Line Up


Worker Bee: An elegantly simple, cost-effective space tug.

Honey Bee Asteroids.001 (1)

Honey Bee: A spacecraft that can mine 10-meter asteroids.


Queen Bee: Can handle asteroids as large as 40 meters in diameter.


An engine propelled by fluid such as water, ammonia, and hydrogen.

Sutter Ultra Mission.002

Sutter Ultra Mission: Breakthrough Telescope Innovation for Asteroid Survey Missions

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“Our financial analysis suggests that getting around in space in that world will be as cheap as air travel.”

Which leads to the next big idea: “tapping into the asteroids and the moon as the ultimate source of material and resources for humanity.”

As Joel puts it, “…once it becomes as cheap as air travel to get around in space, it actually makes sense to go to the asteroids and harvest the precious metals in those asteroids, rather than digging up the ground. And at that point, you know, you're really off to the races for massive space industrialization.”

He adds that “the big impact of what space can offer humanity is moving our mineral resource collection off the planet. And as we automate manufacturing, we have unlimited mineral resources and unlimited energy in space. So, from that, we can have robots that do manufacturing and initially they'll manufacture satellites for use in space.

Pretty soon as the Internet backbone moves to Low Earth Orbit, it makes no sense to have data centers on the ground processing data on the ground because you want data centers to be on the Internet backbone. And most of the data that's generated on Earth for understanding the state of the planet will be generated in space from remote sensing satellites.

So, the data processing to make sense of that will be moved into space. And those data processing centers, and those satellites, will be manufactured in space from asteroid resources. And over time, very soon, it will make much more sense to generate electricity in space rather than on the ground.”

All this leads to an even bigger idea: “…there's virtually unlimited power in space and there's enough material in the asteroids to build habitats for humanity that have a carrying capacity a thousand times that of the earth.”

“And then it's going to be like, well, why in heck would we bring it down to the Earth to manufacture?” says Joel. “We'll just manufacture in space, where we can have robots do the manufacturing, and where all the energy is.”

“At that point, why would you live on the Earth?” Joel asks. “That's nutty—all the resources and all the action is in space.”

Because asteroids hold virtually unlimited resources that can be used to these habitats, Joel says, they “can be spread throughout the solar system to support a population of a trillion people.”

“And there's enough resources in the asteroids to build worlds like that, that can be spread throughout the solar system to support a population of a trillion people.”

“That's a very optimistic view of the future. And we really have to do it.”

So, now we get to the truly important questions.

Like the tacos. Which space quadrant will have the best upscale taco place? The best taco truck (taco … rocket?)?

Speaking of food, will we be growing crops in space? Will they taste different? And what about wine grapes? What’s the terroir like near Mars? (And do grapes grown near Mars have to be red?)

Speaking of red, will those space gas stations have cherry slushies? Will we be able to mix the cherry flavor with the cola flavor? (And while we’re working on Earth-like space habitats, can we dedicate at least one lab to tackling brain-freeze?)

Whew—so many questions. Don’t worry: We have some time to figure this out. But maybe not as much time as you might think.


Joel Sercel

Founder and CEO, TransAstra

Space Technologist, Entrepreneur, and Innovator.