Private Space-Station Maker Sued Over Claims Radio Bands Misused

Vast Space LLC, founded by cryptocurrency billionaire Jed McCaleb, is being sued by a former engineer who claimed he was fired for refusing to use improper radio frequencies in designs for a commercial space station the company hopes to launch as soon as next year.

Christopher Timperio joined Vast in April 2023 and led a team developing communication systems for the company’s first space station, called Haven-1. In their haste to get the station into orbit, Timperio’s bosses demanded he use radio frequencies that would be out of compliance with the Federal Communication Commission’s regulations, according to the whistleblower lawsuit he filed Tuesday day in Los Angeles.

Timperio tried repeatedly to dissuade Chief Executive Officer Max Haot and Chief Technology Officer Alex Hudson from using the frequencies and came up with alternatives that would comply with FCC regulations, but he was fired Dec. 1 for “disagreeing with the technical direction of the leadership at Vast,” the suit alleges.

Vast, based in Long Beach, California, is developing Haven-1 as a first step in its plan to build giant commercial stations that spin to create artificial gravity environments. In May 2023, Vast announced a deal with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch Haven-1 into orbit on Falcon 9 rockets and ferry people to the station inside SpaceX crew capsules.

A Vast executive pushed back on Timperio’s claims.

“We are aware that former Vast employee Chris Timperio raised a concern, after his separation from Vast, about the company’s plans for spectrum licensing,” Krystle Caponio, the chief legal officer, said in a statement. “The company retained outside counsel who conducted a thorough investigation into Mr. Timperio’s concerns and determined they had no merit. The company intends to vigorously defend against Mr. Timperio’s claims.”

Spacecraft Communication

Any company launching spacecraft must receive licensing from the FCC, which carves out the specific radio frequencies engineers can use to communicate with their orbiting vehicles. FCC officials told Timperio and his team that Vast’s plan to use certain frequency channels for Haven-1 wouldn’t be approved, and NASA expressed concern the company’s station would interfere with other spacecraft communications, the suit claims.

According to Timperio, Haot and Hudson argued in favor of using the frequencies. Hudson, who used to work at SpaceX, claimed that Musk’s company also used the frequencies and Vast should do the same, the suit alleged. Hudson joked in one meeting that they could put a camera on Haven stations to fall under the government’s “earth observation classification” to gain access to the radio frequencies the company wanted, according to the suit.

Timperio began to be concerned because “it would likely be his signature on the application to the FCC and he didn’t not want to make a material misrepresentation to the federal government,” the suit said. Timperio said he made a presentation to Vast executives, including Hudson and Haot, showcasing a solution that would change Haven-1’s design to comply with the FCC’s recommendations, and tried repeatedly to change the company’s direction.

After receiving pushback when he spoke out about using the frequencies, he was fired, the lawsuit alleges. Timperio claims he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for being a whistleblower. He’s seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The case is Timperio v. Vast Space, 24STCV07544, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.