Jim Cantrell

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Jim Cantrell
Jim Cantrell Photo.jpg
Alma materUtah State University
OccupationEngineer & Entrepreneur

Jim Cantrell is an American entrepreneur, mechanical engineer and road racer. He is the CEO and co-founder of Phantom Space Corporation, which seeks to build space transportation technology.[1] After working at the French Space Agency CNES (Centre Nationale d’Études Spatiales) and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, he worked as an independent consultant to aerospace companies for fifteen years and was on the founding teams of SpaceX and Moon Express.[2][3] He was the CEO and one of the co-founders of Vector Launch.[4]

A mechanical engineer by profession, Cantrell regularly participates in road racing.[5]

Early life and education

Cantrell was born and raised in Yucaipa, California, and went to high school in San Jose, California. In 1983 he enrolled at Utah State University for a BS in electrical engineering but later changed to mechanical engineering. Alongside his BS, he worked as a research engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for one year starting in 1987.[6] At JPL, he worked on Mars exploration technologies including Mars Rover and Mars Balloon missions.[7] He completed his BS in 1988 and started work on his MS in mechanical engineering at Utah State University, while working as a research engineer at the University's Space Dynamics Laboratory, again focusing on Mars exploration.[8]


Cantrell joined the French Space Agency (CNES) in 1990 after completing his MS. He went to France to work on a joint French-Soviet Mars program and supported development of the Mars Snake for the Mars 94/96 balloon mission.[2] He returned to the U.S. in 1992 to join Space Dynamics Laboratory, where he led the spacecraft systems engineering on three small satellites for Department of Defense. He also worked on various joint missile defense programs conducted between America and Russia. Cantrell was promoted to the position of director program development in 1997.[9]

In 2001, Cantrell started independent consulting and served as the program manager for the privately funded solar sail program known as Cosmos 1.[10] The same year, Elon Musk approached him seeking his help in sending a mission to Mars using Russian rockets because of their low price as compared to the US rockets. When Musk and Cantrell approached Russians, they refused to sell them rockets and Musk decided to build his own.[11] Musk founded SpaceX with Cantrell as a consultant.[12] While at the company he helped in the development of Falcon 1 launch vehicle.[13]

After leaving SpaceX, Cantrell founded Strategic Space Development, an aerospace and technology consultancy and took on the position of president and CEO.[14] One of the significant projects undertaken by Strategic Space was the Light Sail project headed by The Planetary Society where Cantrell served as project manager from 2008 through 2012. Strategic Space participated in over 46 spacecraft developments including NuStar, Juno, Skybox Imaging, and Iceye X-1.[15] In 2010, the founders of Moon Express approached Cantrell seeking his help to develop a business offering commercial lunar robotic transportation. Cantrell became a member of the founding team of Moon Express and subsequently became the CTO of the company. Moon Express was selected by Forbes as one of the "Names You Should Know" in 2011.[16][17]

During his tenure at Strategic Space, Cantrell also became involved in the technical and financial development of several startups including Skybox Imaging, Atlas Ground Systems, Iceye, PlanetIQ, York Space Systems, and Black Sky.[15]

In 2013, Cantrell was hired as the CEO of IDair, a biometric authentication technology company, to turn the company around and settle existing legal disputes.[18] As CEO, he reorganized the firm and led product development efforts at the company. He stepped down from the position in 2014 after obtaining a $17M settlement in IDair's favor.[19]

In 2015, Cantrell approached John Garvey with a business idea to develop a Micro Launch Vehicles to service the micro-satellite community. Vector purchased Garvey's company, Garvey Spacecraft, to jumpstart launch vehicle development and speed up time to market.[20] Cantrell stepped down as CEO of Strategic Space Development (now known as StratSpace) to serve as the CEO of Vector.[21] By late 2019, Vector had raised $100 million in venture funding and $2.5 million in contracts. The company originally planned to launch its first orbital vehicle by mid 2018 but development problems delayed the first launch until mid 2020.[22][21] In August 2019, one of Vector's major investors pulled out causing a mass layoff of Vector’s 180 employees.[23]

Throughout his career, Cantrell served on corporate boards of several companies in the aerospace industry. In 2004, he became a board member at the Paragon Space Development Corporation and served there until 2013. He was on the Planetary Society's board of advisors from 2007 to 2012. He has also served on ATLAS Space Board of Advisors, Morf3D Board of Advisors, Iceye, and York Space Systems Board of Advisors. Cantrell also served on source selection panels for NASA reviewing proposals for deep space and space science missions for 15 years.[2]

Road racing

Cantrell began racing on go-carts in his teen years later graduating to drag racing in 1982-1985. He began pursuing a career in racing in 2005. Since then he has participated in 25 Hours of Thunderhill, 24 Hours of Daytona Classic, SCCA GT-1 Championship events (placing 13th and 7th nationally in SCCA GT-1 championships) and vintage races all over the United States. He was the SCCA regional champion in Arizona in C Sports Racing in 2013 and 2014 and on the Arizona Region Sports Car Club of America's board since 2012.[5]

In 2005, he founded Vintage Exotics Competition Engineering, which designs and restores vintage racing cars.[5] He was the Competition Driving Instructor at Raptor Motorsports from 2010 to 2012.[24][25]

Litigation by trustees of Vector Launch Inc.

On 10 December 2021 trustees acting on behalf of Cantrell's former employer Vector Launch Inc. filed a lawsuit (case no. 21-51310-JTD) against Cantrell in the bankruptcy court of Delaware in order to "recover damages caused by Cantrell’s breach of fiduciary duty as an officer and director".[26]

The lawsuit alleges multiple acts of "disloyal and systematic looting of Vector for his own personal financial gain in order to fund Cantrell’s personal racing hobby and other business ventures unrelated to Vector", and includes allegations that Cantrell "siphoned" money towards his personal racing activities, personal private jet travel for himself and his family, a bodyguard, bulletproof cars and an unauthorized personal loan of $100,000.[27]

The suit seeks to recover more than $4,000,000 in damages from Cantrell.


  1. ^ www.bizjournals.com https://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/inno/stories/profiles/2021/11/16/phantom-space-ceo-jim-cantrell-on-space-commerce.html. Retrieved 2022-03-22. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "New Company Wants to Change the Way We Think About Spaceflight". Business Insider.
  3. ^ "While SpaceX eyes its "BFR," an early employee now pursues an "SFR"". 26 April 2016.
  4. ^ "Vector Space Systems aims to launch satellites by the hundreds".
  5. ^ a b c "James Cantrell talks to TheTOC". 25 July 2014.
  6. ^ "Jim Cantrell".
  7. ^ "It's a Corvettes summer at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion". 17 August 2013.
  8. ^ Friedman, Louis (5 November 2015). Human Spaceflight From Mars to Stars. ISBN 9780816531462.
  9. ^ "James Cantrell".
  10. ^ "Solar Sail Spacecraft Set for Launch".
  11. ^ "Former SpaceX Exec Explains How Elon Musk Taught Himself Rocket Science". Business Insider.
  12. ^ Berger, Eric (2021). Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780008445645.
  13. ^ "How Did Elon Musk Learn Enough About Rockets To Run SpaceX? Jim Cantrell Answers". Forbes.
  14. ^ "Old Russian ICBM Reincarnated as Space Launcher".
  15. ^ a b "About Jim".
  16. ^ "ABOUT US".
  17. ^ "It's Official: In 2017, We Begin Mining the Moon". 20 August 2016.
  18. ^ "Fingerprint Startup Claims Smartphone Security Breakthrough". Bloomberg.com. 13 March 2014.
  19. ^ "美国IDair公司研发自主指纹识别系统 获媒体好评" (in Chinese).
  20. ^ "Former SpaceX founding members unveil Vector Space Systems". 28 April 2016.
  21. ^ a b "Two of SpaceX's founders are working on a new rocket to launch micro-satellites". 26 April 2016.
  22. ^ "Former SpaceX Founding Member Is Starting A New Small Rockets Company". 27 April 2016.
  23. ^ "Vector's launch business in peril after 'major change in financing'".
  24. ^ "Elon Musk: Triumph of His Will". 15 November 2012.
  25. ^ "Vintage Exotics".
  26. ^ "Hurwitz et al v. Cantrell and Vintage Exotics LLC".
  27. ^ "Elon Musk's Mentor Accused of "Brazen" Embezzlement".
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