Meet the space entrepreneurs

Written by Ashwin Rattan Tuesday, 18 December 2012 22:57
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One of the best-known of these space billionaires is Sir Richard Branson and his company Virgin Galactic


This venture will start out offering flights on its SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space for research and tourism purposes (its precursor, SpaceShipOne flew to space in 2004, the first private manned flight to space), and later expand to launching cargo into orbit, and perhaps flying passengers on very long-range routes between two points on Earth very fast by flying to the edge of space.  


You may have heard of Elon Musk, founder of Pay Pal (you may have caught his cameo appearance inIron Man) and now the driving force behind the Tesla electric roadster and his space launch company,Space Exploration Technologies (“SpaceX”) which recently launched its Dragon capsule using theFalcon 9 rocket they developed themselves to the International Space Station and returned it safely to Earth. 


NASA recently reviewed the entire design and development process of Falcon 9 and Dragon and concluded that they would have spent at least three times as much money to design, build and launch it as did SpaceX.  NASA is far from the only customer for SpaceX.  Recently the international communications satellite company Intelsat placed a major order for launches with SpaceX, marking the first time a comsat user of its size and restige has chosen a launcher that is neither a government agency nor a product, ultimately, of a government procurement contract.  SpaceX has a full book of orders even if NASA’s business were to go away.  One Chinese space official admitted that even China’s state launch service, developed on government funding and operating with Chinese labor costs, could not compete on cost with SpaceX.



Far fewer people know Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, which has been test-flying a series of space vehicles from their proprietary spaceport in Texas designed to take passengers first to sub-orbital destinations, and then to orbit.  However, most people know of, and buy from his previous company,


Many people have played the computer game such as Quake and Doom, but far fewer know the name of their designer, John Carmack, the founder of the company that produced them, id Software


He is now using his fortune to support Armadillo Aerospace, the whimsically-named company (almost as whimsical as naming a computer company after a fruit) that is developing its own suborbital vehicle, now undertaking an extensive series of tests. 


Similarly, computer executive David Masten is pursuing a similar strategy with his suborbital launch vehicle series, also in test. His company, Masten Space Systems, surprised many by winning a prestigious NASA prize of a million dollars for demonstrating a potential Lunar landing vehicle technology based on their own systems, despite the competition from larger, better-funded companies. 


Finally, the most advanced of the small suborbital spaceplane companies, XCOR Aerospace, has advanced primarily by classical bootstrapping, only recently gaining some angel capital backing.  Never the less, they are perhaps closest of any company to flying passengers to space for hire with their Lynx II spaceplane, possibly beating Virgin Galactic to first revenue flights.


Taken from Something New Under The Sun - the first space investment report. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 December 2012 23:52

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