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Space Investing
Section 2 - The Frontier of Space Business
Moving a Mountain of Platinum
Moving a Mountain of Platinum
Here we see a small asteroid containing platinum group elements (PGEs) harvested in preparation for ore extraction on the Moon. A ring of thrusters guides the asteroid for release at a specific point in the free return orbit from the Main Asteroid Belt. Courtesy Phil Smith.

We continue with our overview of space business and investing with a look at space businesses outside of the conventional telecommunications and launch industries.

The following two industries are now "off the ground":

  • Remote sensing is a promising area with many possible commercial applications but is still struggling to grow into a industry that relies on commercial markets (e.g. agricultural services, real estate development planning, etc.) instead of government and military markets.

  • Global Positioning (GPS) is a space-related business whose activity is on the ground but uses signals from government satellites. Commercial growth has not been as fast as initially hoped but in the past few years has accelerated with applications such as cell phone location systems.

Human Spaceflight has not yet seen a successful business model. The dream of most space activists is that some sort of commercial space business will emerge that will pay for human spaceflight and make irrelevant the humans vs. robots argument.

Space tourism could become the killer app that finally makes human spaceflight self-sustaining. Until Dennis Tito's flight in 2001, even most space advocates considered tourist excursions to orbit to be many decades in the future. But there has been a big change of attitude. Paying customers have continued to go to the ISS (after a break due to the Columbia accident) and most observers believe that several companies will start to offer suborbital space rides for paying customers in the 2010-2011 timeframe.

We discuss below further aspects of commercial human spaceflight projects.

Almost every concept about commercial space would be greatly enhanced if access to space became significantly cheaper. In fact, many of the most interesting space businesses will not be feasible until launch costs fall a whole lot. There are many companies working on lower cost space transport. We discuss those in these sections:

We focus on this page on new business concepts that could be served by cheaper space access:


News & Resources about New Space Businesses


2A - New Space Business Concepts in Development

Human Spaceflight

For exploration purposes, the humans versus robots debate has been going on since the start of the space age. Most space advocates, however, don't see space as just for science but as a place for humans to live and settle. To initiate and support humans in space, there need to be commercial services and products created there. Here we look at some possible businesses for people in space.

Microgravity factories

In the 1980s there were many who predicted that the manufacturing in space of speciality products like protein crystals, pharmaceuticals, and microelectronics would grow into a huge industry by the turn of the Century. Microgravity provides for a number of interesting effects, such as allowing some types of fragile but scientifically and industrially important crystals to grow to much larger sizes than on the surface of the earth.

Unfortunately, the lack of cheap and frequent access to space greatly slowed research in this area. Even in the best of circumstances on earth, it can take years of R&D to turn a promising research into goods to sell. Furthermore, any space based manufacturing operatioin in space would need for much lower cost transport to and from orbit to have a chance at becoming a profitable enterprise.

Despite all that, there are in fact some promising developments with microgravity R&D, especially in the bioscience area. For example, it turns out that microbes grow extremely well in micro-g and can express genes that were suppressed on the ground. This may lead to the selection of particular featires of interest. In one case, it is being used to investigate vaccine developent in space. The company Astrogenetix, a business unit of Astrotech (formerly Spacehab), has been formed to pursue the commercialization of this. For more information, see these reports

Additional resources:
Lunar/CisLunar Ventures

Ventures seeking to carry out lunar exploration, bases, and mining development have begun to emerge.

  • Golden Spike
    • Led by Alan Stern and other space luminaries, this project seeks to develop systems to put two people on the Moon for about $1.5B per mission. Development would cost about $6B.
  • Shackleton Energy Company
    • This company seeks to use water resources at the lunar polar regions to supply fuel for developlent of cislunar infrastructure.

Space Tourism/Personal Spaceflight

When Dennis Tito flew to the ISS in 2001, it produced an enormous boost for the promoters of commercial space tourism. Previously, the concept was considered a wild fantasy. However, even with the subsequent flight by Mark Shuttleworth, the high cost of such flights still made it seem an extremely limited market.

However, in 2004 Burt Rutan's team won the the X PRIZE and set off a new race to become the first company to offer suborbital spaceflight rides, which while still not cheap ($100k-$250k), will involve a much bigger market. As of the fall of 2005, there were around 300 people who had already place deposits or paid the full amount to companies like Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures for rides as soon as they became available. Virgin Galactic said they had already collect over $10M and the flights for the first 2 years are already booked.

It is hoped that the suborbital business will incrementally improve spaceflight transportation and eventuually offer low cost access to orbit, as well. The RLV & Space Transport News weblog follows developments in the area of commercial space access.

  • Space Tourism - See this dedicated section for lots more information on tourism and the companies involved in it.
  • Personal Spaceflight Venture Viability Syllabus (pdf) - An outline for a course on the business of personal spaceflight by John Kavanagh
  • OneSpace Technologies Inc. – We get you into space.™ - "OneSpace Technologies Inc. is a new company in the business of private human spaceflight for consumers and corporate customers. OneSpace is creating a consumer mass market of millions of people in the Solar System through offering consulting and opportunities to invest in a spaceline and other services in orbit. These OneSpace services are pioneering the way to not just make space more accessible, but to eventually enable bus-fare prices to get to orbit by economy of scale. Within the space industry, one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy, OneSpace creates safe and practical ways to get people into space now."

Orbital Reusable Space Transports

Several companies are developing reusable or partially reusable space transport systems. Here are a few. (See RLV Countdown section for longer list.)

  • Blue Origin
    • Owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the company's first goal is a reusable suborbital vehicle. However, it is also building a crew module that would launch on a ULA Atlas V for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. They are also developing a reusable rocket on which to launch the crew module.

  • Boeing:
    • For NASA's commercial crew program and for transporting passengers to Bigelow Space Stations, Boeing is developing the CST-100 crew spacecraft.

  • Sierra Nevada Space Systems:
    • SNC was a space components business until it bought SpaceDev, which brought it the reusable Dream Chaser crew vehcile project. They also build the hybrid rocket motors for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

  • SpaceX:
    • Developed and has flown the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets. First commercial company to send a spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Plan is to develop reusable versions of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets and the Dragon spacecraft. They have been testing vertical takeoff and landing of a prototype reusable first stage booster called Grasshopper at their test facility in McGregor, Texas.
    • Space Exploration Technologies Corp. | Private Company Financial Research - PrivCo.com


Suborbital Reusable Space Transports

A new class of fully reusable, fast-turnaround, low cost vehicles for accessing suborbital space (~100Km and higher) will be going into operation in the 2010-2012 time frame. Companies like Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, XCOR, and others have begun building and/or testing such vehicles. The target markets include space tourism, military reconnaissance, educational, science and technology research applications. (Some of the companies like Armadillo and Masten will provide unmanned vehicles initially but they plan to move to manned 2nd-gen vehicles.)

In some cases, the companies will focus just on building the vehicles and let other companies use the vehicles for such services.


Commercial Astronauts

As commercial space flights become common for suborbital and orbital operations, companies will need to hire experts in flying space vehicles, in running experments and operating equipment during such flights, etc. There are now companies forming to offer such services.

Spaceflight Training/Preparation

The people who run and fly space tourism vehicles will need training. Also, passengers may also some level of preparation as well. These firms hope to provide such a service:

Spaceflight Support Hardware

Space Suits & Life Support Systems
Standard NASA space suits can cost millions of dollars and they usually must be customized to some extent for each astronaut. Low cost alternatives are needed for space tourism.

Commercial Orbiting Facilities

Bigelow Aerospace modules relative size
(Image: Bigelow Aerospace)
Relative sizes of the Bigelow Aerospace habitat modules.

Operations schedule:
    Genesis I - launched July 2006
    Geneis II - launched June 2007
    Galaxy - canceled in favor of going straight to Sundancer
    Sundancer - planned launch in 2014
    BA-330 - launch in 2015 and docking with two Sundancer modules

There has only been very limited success in getting companies to subsidize microgravity experiments on the ISS. The high costs of access and of operations on the station have prevented the projects from getting very far. See the ISS Commercialization section.

NASA signed agreements with a company called Dreamtime to exploit the multimedia possiblies on the ISS but the firm went bankrupt. SpaceHab signed an agreement with the Russian Energia company to develop the "Enterprise" module, which would be dedicated to multimedia and other commericial activities but that project also seemed to go into limbo.

Boeing once announced plans to convert a spare Russian module to a commercial module but that also never got off the ground.

However, independent projects to develop space habitats has made considerable progress, especially that of Bigelow. Below we list some of these projects.

Bigelow Aerospace
This company is developing plans for a space tourism infrastructure that includes orbital hotels. Owner of Budget Suites of America, a $600 million (est.) privately held company, Robert Bigelow is planning a long term project to develop space tourism with a committement of several hundred million dollars.

Their first prototype module - Genesis I - was successfully launched on July 12, 2006. Genesis II was launched on June 28, 2007.

In August of 2007, they announced that instead of launching the intermediate prototype Galaxy module in 2008, they would do only ground studies with it and instead accelerate development and flight of the Sundancer crew capable module. The current plan is to begin in 2014 the assembly of a habitat cluster with two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module.

Price plan as given by Robert Bigelow in April 2007:

  • A full-scale module, with 300 cubic meters of volume, would cost
    • $88 million a year or
    • $7.9 million a month to lease;
    • half a module would cost $54 million a year or
    • $4.5 million a month.

More information in the Space Tourism section.

The Ask a Rocket Scientist service answers "questions on Bigelow Aerospace, Genesis I and II, Mission Control and anything else related to our company and spaceflight".

The Bigelow inflatable structures technology derived from NASA's Transhab project. However, the company had to do considerable R&D to move the technology from its early stage to flight status. For example, they did lots of testing of the different materials and combinations to prevent micrometeorite and orbital debris punctures. They had their own hypervelocity gun that could fire projectiles at up to 7km/sec at samples. The work led, for example, to this patent: Bigelow - Orbital debris shield - Patent 7204460.

Interview with Robert Bigelow on The Space Show on August 24, 2006.

The company sponsored the America's Space Prize, which would have awarded $50M to a US team that successfully flew a reusable orbital manned vehicle by 2010. However, the program was dropped when no firms entered the competition. Instead, the company now offers a large contract to the first company that can provide crew transport to the Bigelow habitats: Bigelow Aerospace to offer $760 million for spaceship - New Scientist - Oct.25.07

Previously, Bigelow sponsored the Bigelow Prize competition to reward those who helped " the promotion and/or use of space for private enterprise purposes without government ownership."

The winner of the year 2000 award was Spacehab:. Spacehab Wins $10,000 Prize for Role in Space Commerce - Company Puts Money into Scholarship Fund - Spaceref.com - June.27.01. This program has apparently been discontinued.


Excalibur Almaz
This venture is based on the Isle of Man and is led by Art Dula. They will use an updated version of the Almaz reusable spacecraft. They are negotiating with various launch vehicle suppliers to put it into orbit.

The Soviet Almaz program referred to an elaborate spacecraft system that included a capsule (reusable return vehicle or RRV), various types of service modules, an orbital habitat and ground facilities. The TKS spacecraft includes the reusable capsule and a conical tower above it that includes parachutes, attitude control propulsion, etc. The three person capsule connects to a service module and can be accessed via a hatch through the heat shield. Dula says that they are currently developing a new "small" service module (SM) with a European firm. This initial SM will not have a docking mechanism to attach to orbital habitats.

After working in stealth mode for several years, the firm went public on August 18.09 with a press release (pdf) describing their plans and opening an elaborate website.

Astrotech (formerly SpaceHab),
SpaceHab was the first, and so far only, hardware company to make a profitable business from manned spaceflight activities. (Space Adventures sponsorship of ISS tourist trips is apparently profitable but they didn't build hardware.) It was formed completely with private investment and risked its own funds to

"develop, own and operate pressurized habitable modules that provide space-based laboratory research facilities and cargo services aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet."

For more on the background of the company see History of SpaceHab - Michael Kearney - TWST.

In the first round of the COTS competition in 2006,he company proposed its Apex module system, but they did not win a contract. In late 2007, the company led a team that submitted a proposal to NASA for the second round of the COTS program to provide commercial cargo resupply for the ISS. They became one of four finalists but lost to Orbital Sciences. Their system wa based around the ARCTUS spacecraft modules that could be launched on any of several rockets. Previously, the company had proposed its own commerical module - Enterprise - for the International Space Station but that project never proceeded past the conceptual design stage.

With the end of the Shuttle program approaching and with the loss some important contract work, the firm faced severe problems and saw its stock price plumment. Thomas B. Pickens (son of famous oil man T. Boone Pickens) took charge of the company in 2007 and set about to reorganize it.

In 2009 the company changed its name to Astrotech and formed it around "five business units - Astrotech Space Operations, Astrogenetix, 1st Detect, AirWard and SPACEHAB Transportation". The tAstrogenetix unit is of particular interest with respect to space development. That unit is in charge of space biosciences projects such as the promising research into "developing vaccine candidates in microgravity, with a focus on Salmonella and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)". Find out more about this work in

Earlier articles about Spacehab:

MirCorp was a collaboration of several western investors and the Russian RSC Energia company. The company intended to commercialize the Mir space station. It backed the first privately funded manned spaceflight when it funded a Soyuz mission to Mir.

The company believed that an orbital facility could provide several revenue sources:

  • Advertising - e.g. company logos on the outside of the modules, commercializes filmed in the station, etc.
  • Microgravity R& D sponsored by governments and businesses.
  • Space media and internet portal like SpaceHab and Dreamtime. They had promising discussions with the producer of the Survivor reality TV show about a similar show aboard Mir.
  • Satellite launching & service - small satellites could be assembled, tested and launched from Mir (assuming their desired orbits were accessible.) This would avoid the expense and complications of the hardening necessary for ground launches. Also, many satellite failure occur early in the mission so the on orbit testing could avoid this.
  • Tourism - see the Space Tourism section for the latest news on MirCorps tourism efforts. One passenger has already signed up.

However, the dot.com and telecom downturn in 2001 depleted the resources of the company and of potential investors and it could not prevent the de-orbiting of Mir. The company turned to using the International Space Station and to developing its own module but these projects did not go anywhere.

Initially, Dennis Tito dealt with MirCorp but switched to Space Adventures when his target hotel changed from Mir to the ISS. See the MirCorp entry in the Space Tourism section for recent news items.

Founder Walt Anderson subsequently focused on the company Orbital Recovery, which is developing a space tug for comsat rescue.

See the discussion at Transterrestrial Musings of my retrospective (Feb.8.04) on Dwayne Day's article Chasing profits in the void: MirCorp's economic success highly unlikely by Dwayne A. Day - Florida Today - June.16.00.

Mir-Corp supported the Xero service that would have provided parabolic flights out of a base in Kiruna in northern Sweden but that project has apparently folded.

Walt Anderson was arrested in the US for tax evasion in 2005. He was accused of hiding several hundred million dollars in off-shore accounts. Anderson has been interviewed on The Space Show on April 25, 2004 and May 6, 2007.

The documentay Orphans of Apollo: The Battle of the Mir & the New Space Revolution, released in 2009, tells the behind the scenes story of the project.

Jeffrey Manber, who was deeply involved in the attempt to privatise Mir, posted on his Aviation Week plog a note about the " anniversary of the world’s first-and still only—privately funded manned space mission": Anniversary of MirCorp Mission - OnSpace/AvWeek - Apr.6.09. In a Space Show interview on Dec. 16, 2008, Manber gave lots of interesting background info on the MirCorp saga, as well as on Russian-US space relations in the 1990s.

More Commercial Space Habitat Projects and Resources:

Low-cost Satellites & Scientific Probes

SNC Space
Founded by the late James Benson in 1997, SpaceDev began with a serious effort to build a business based on exploring and mining asteroids. However, it could never convince NASA to follow a data purchase exploration model. So the company switched to a focus on low cost satellites and components.

The company gradually built up a substantial business via contracts with companies such as Orbital Sciences, Australian government/university organization to build a micro-satellite, NASA for a university research satellite, etc.

In 1998 the firm bought the rights to the hybrid propulsion technology developed by AMROC. They later won the contract to provide the hybrid motor for the SpaceShipObne vehicle that won the X PRIZE in 2004.

In 2006 SpaceDev merged with Starsys Research Corporation and expanded its range of spacecraft technologies.

In 2008 the company was acquired by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) but has continued to operate as a separate subsidiary. It is, for example, developing the propulsion system for the SpaceShipTwo project. They also are developing the Dream Chaser reusable spaceplane.

See SpaceDev History for more about the background of the company.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
This British firm is a spinoff from the highly productive student satellite program at Surry University. SSTL has launched several commercial microsats and is doing quite well.

In 2008 the shares owned by Surry Univ. were purchased by the giant European EADS Astrium aerospace conglomerate. However, Astrium has promised to let SSTL continue to operate in the same manner that it has been.

See more about amateur and student satellites in the Satellite Building section.

In-Space Services: Satellite Repair, Refueling, Assembly, etc

Space Tugs

To develop and support an in-space infrastructure, a space tug vehicle of one kind or another will eventually be required for economic operations. Such vehicles remain permanently in space. Their jobs include boosting spacecraft to their desired orbit, bring cargo and crew modules in to dock with a space station, bring a satellite to a station for repair, moving fuel tanks at an orbiting fuel depot, etc. The first such vehicles are now under development.


Phezu Space
Ken Harvey and Allen Herbert (Jaka Consulting) along with Jayfus T. Doswell (Juxtopia) formed the company Phezu Space, LLC in 2010 to pursue development of in-space service vehicles. They describe the firm as follows:

Phezu’s (pronounced fay•zoo) mission is to be the leading commercial space research & development and manufacturing company that will design and produce the best and most reliable orbital service and transportation vehicles. The company will initially focus on developing a full-service, semi-automated space-based servicing vehicle that will provide service and support to spacecraft, satellites and other orbital entities outside and inside earth’s orbital sphere. Phezu’s in-space service vehicle’s capabilities will include refueling, vehicle towing and maintenance. Targeted customers will include civilian, military, commercial and government entities and specifically the burgeoning space tourism industry.

“Phezu’s space service vehicles will be like having a full service gas station in space. We will be able to refuel, service and tow space vehicles so that they may fulfill their mission. This is a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the commercial space industry that is positioned to take off just like the internet industry,” says Allen Herbert, President and CEO of Phezu Space, LLC. “With Black unemployment at 16%, almost double the national rate, it is important that African American entrepreneurs are on the cutting edge of new and innovative industries. We hope Phezu can be an inspiration for other African American innovators looking to start IT, environmental and aerospace companies.”

More about the company:

ATK and US Space LLC formed this company in 2011 to fly a space servicing spacecraft that attaches to satellites to extends their working lives.

ViviSat provides in-orbit satellite life extension and protection services. ViviSat solutions will enable satellite operators to significantly extend satellite mission length, activate new markets, drive asset value and protect their franchises.


Orbital Satellite Services/Orbital Recovery
As discussed in the Geostationary section, the big money makers in the space business are the communications satellites in the GEO orbit around the equator. Many of these huge birds are still functioning well when they run out the fuel needed to do the station keeping propulsion to maintain their location.

The company Orbital Recovery was formed in 2002 to develop a spacecraft that would rendevous and attach itself to such derelict spacecraft and provide station keeping functions. The company's founders included Walt Anderson, the well known telecommunications mogul and space investor (see Space Angels), and also Dennis Wingo, who also runs SkyCorp (see below.)

This could extend the lives of the comsats for several more years and save the companies that own them hundreds of millions of dollars otherwise needed to buy new satellites.

The company is apparently defunct due to an inability to raise sufficient capital.

More Space Tug Projects

Constellation Services International
This small company attempted to develop a standard set of container spacecraft that could launch on many different rockets and would be used to deliver cargo to the ISS or a Bigelow habitat. The company included several space activists including Charles E. Miller, founder of ProSpace and David W. Anderman, a director of Space Frontier Foundation. Walt Anderson was also an early advisor.

More Space Module Projects

In-Space Assembly

Skycorp was founded by Dennis Wingo to develop the capabilities to assemble and launch satellites from the International Space Station and other orbiting platforms.

On orbit assembly could allow for much cheaper satellites since they would not have to be hardened for the rigors of ground launch. Furthermore, the sats could be turned on and checked out before release into orbit.

Most satellites that fail usually do it in this first phase after launch when they open their solar arrays, antennas, etc. and something gets stuck. By doing this at the station under supervision, it would be possible to bring them back in for repair if there was a problem.

SkyCorp believes such an approach could reduce the price for a Teledesic scale LEO constellation by a factor of 10.

Mining Asteroids & the Moon

The feasibility of mining asteroids for useful materials took a big step forward in April of 2012 when the company Planetary Resources made its debut. Founded by well know space entrepreneurs Eric Anderson (Space Adventures) and Peter Diamandis (X-PRIZE) founded the compnay, which is backed by Charles Simonyi, James Cameron, and other moguls. They will work incrementally, starting with LEO space telescopes to search for Near Earth Objects (NEO) of interest and then send probes to investigte promising objects. The third stage will attempt extraction technques.

Asteroid mining ventures:

More space mining links:

Lunar Exploration & Development

We put a total of twelve people on the Moon more than three decades ago and NASA now proposes to go back to the Moon by 2020.

However, it's possible commercial companies might get there first or at least play a substantial role in NASA's program. A number of ventures are in the works to send first unmanned spacecraft and then people to the Moon.

Transorbital got enormous publicity back in 2002 when it received licenses for its spacecraft to go to the Moon to send back HDTV of the surface and deliver a time capsule with digital messages and tokens from the public.

This startup aimed for the moon with a low-cost lunar orbiter - TrailBlazer - that would provide high-resolution video on order. A later mission will place a lander - Electra - on the moon.

The company has been defunct for several years, apparently unable to raise funds to build and launch its spacecraft.

Unfortunately, LunarCorp was dissolved. Former president, David Gump, is now CEO of Transformational Space Corp. Nevertherless, it is of historical interest and a similar project will probably arise again.

LunarCorp's central aim was to develop Lunar rovers that could be used for research but also for entertainment & education via remote control at amusement parks, museums, planetariums, etc.

Company advisors included Buzz Aldrin and Alan Binder, who directed the Lunar Prospector mission, and it worked closely with famous robotist Red Whittaker of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh.

They are also worked on developing a project to send rovers to the Lunar poles to examine the ice deposits there.

Tthey tried to develop a Lunar Defense arcade game in collaboration with Entropy Engineering. and a lunar landing simulator for museums and planetariums based on the arcade game platform.

One success for the firm was a sponsorship deal with Radio Shack. But it was not enough to pay for the entire mission.

More Lunar Projects   

More New Space Business Concepts

Spaceflight Gear
Several companies aim toprovide various types of equipment and services of use to commercial spaceflight.

Flying Memorabilia in Space
Sending coins, medallions, stamps and other items into space and bringing them back as souveniers has been going on since the earliest days of manned spaceflight. Flown artifacts are a popular segment of the space collectibles hobby.

Now some are trying to make flying items in space as a business all on its own. Space and sci-fi related items will get an added cachet if they are certified to have been in space.

Spaceflight Enhancement
Adding cachet to a product by flying it, or some part or ingredient in it, to space and back.

Small Payload Consumer/Educational Spaceflight Companies
These companies specialize in taking very small payloads with personal materials and educational projects to near space primarily but eventually to space.

Space Burial
Sending the remains of someone into space has great symbolic appeal to many people, especially if that someone had a particular love of space while alive.

Vicarious Space Travel
This involves sending some intangible token of yourself into space. This could be messages and images on a CD or even a DNA sample. In some cases it is simply broadcasting a message towards a star with a high power radio transmitter. More about this can be found in the Space Tourism section.

Space Advertising
Cosmonauts filming commercials on Mir and the ISS, deliveries of pizza and beef jerky to the ISS, and postering company decals on the sides of rockets (see sponsorships below) - space advertising has become a reality. Whether it will become a substantial business or just an occasional gimmick awaits to be seen.

Note: proposals to put"billboards" of some kind into orbit that would be visible on earth have been heavily criticized and would probably be outlawed if such a "heavenly sign" was actually attempted.

Space Advertisements - Jim Kingdon offers a timeline of space ad projects.

Car racing teams obtain most of their funding from a major sponsor plus several minor ones. The teams rely on sponsors since the winnings for even the top teams seldom cover all of the expenses.

The sponsor's logo covers the car and the drivers's helmets and suits and the cars may be featured in the company's advertising.

It has been suggested that commercial space projects, especially private launch vehicle developers, might find similar continual, on-going support via similar sponsorships (see the Space Access'02 meeting review), as opposed to just the occasional ad as mentioned above.

While such a sponsor probably would not cover the total project costs, they could nevertheless provide a significant revenue stream.

As amateur and small company sub-orbital RLV's begin to appear in X-Prize attempts and commercial launches they will probably receive tremendous publicity. When XCOR, for example, flew its EZ-Rocket in 2001, there were reports about it in numerous major newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs. The possibility of such media attention should attract considerable interest from potential sponsors.

The X PRIZE became the Ansari X PRIZE when the Ansari family became the top sponsor for the project. They also succeeded in finding several other major sponsors for its suborbital spaceflight contest. It is now finding sponsors for the annual X PRIZE Cup.


Space Entertainment & Promotion
These companies put together various times of space related public events for entertainment, education and promotion.

This kind of activity is really just getting started but we can expect it to grow as X Prize, space tourism, and similar advanced rocket & space capabilities available outside of government expand.

Zero-G Experences via Parabolic Flights

Space Sports: Zero-G Sports/Reality Shows
Projects involving sports and reality type TV shows based on weightlessness, via parabolic flights until access to orbit becomes cheaper, have begun to appear.

Space Games
Lotteries, sweepstakes, online skill games, etc. that provide space-related prizes are listed in the Space Tourism section.

Commercial Spaceports
Commercial space transportation systems need, of course, a spaceport facility from which to operate. Even air launch systems need a home base. Some space transport companies will use existing government installations but most space tourism types of operations plan to use a dedicated commercial facility. (Some of these will use a launchpad at an on-going government spaceport.)

Some of the commercial spaceports plan to include theme park types of facilities for visitors such as tours, space museums, simulators, space/rocket exhibitions, thrill rides, etc.

  • Spaceports Section
    • US - lots of commercial spaceport projects in the US
  • FuturIST: Future Infrastructure for Space Transportation - An Int. Space University team study on commercial spaceports;
    • Executive Summary (pdf) - Full Report (pdf, 113 pages)

      Commercial spaceports are being established around the world to tap the potentially lucrative market of future civilian space transportation and space touriam. The goal of the report is to establish business, technical, and regulatory criteria to evaluate existing and future spaceports' commercial viability and sustainability of infrastructure and operations. The team has developed a Spaceport Evaluation Mechanism (SEM) to assist spaceport developers and operators in the evaluation of the commercial viability of spaceports.

Space Themed Shops/Cafes/Parks
Commercial theme parks and entertainment facilities with all or mostly space-related attractions. Included here also are the companies that build such places.

Space Projects Support and Consulting
These companies help students, research groups, and small companies to put experiments into space.


NewSpace Consulting/Networking
These companies and organizations provide assistance to entrepreneurial space companies in getting off the ground.

NewSpace Investment
Gradually, investment in entrepreneurial space ventures is growing. Here are some resources in this area:

Point-to-Point/Fast Package Delivery
A reusable vehicle to provide low cost access to space has been the key missing ingredient for real space development. (See the RLV section.) A major stumbling block to building such a vehicle has been the lack of a strong short term market that could help convince investors to fund such a vehicle.

It has occasionally been proposed that a startup launcher company could make money by not going all the way to space but, instead, by offering to deliver high value goods quickly to distant locations on earth.

For example, a semiconductor company can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour while waiting for a crucial part to fix a broken assembly line. If a rocket or scramjet vehicle could pop over from another continent with the needed parts, they would gladly pay a hefty delivery fee.

A serious study of the feasibility of Fast Package Delivery has been done at MIT by several students for their Master theses work:

  • Exploring fast package delivery from a systems perspective - MIT thesis by Jared Martin, 1999
  • Fast Package Delivery: Commercial Applications of a Hypersonic Airbreathing Vehicle by J. Martin, K. Palmer, M. Chan, A. Karasi, D. Glas - AIAA - 1998 (no longer available on line)
  • Conceptual design of a global fast package delivery system - thesis by Kurt Palmer 1998
  • Vehicle concept exploration and avionics architecture design for a fast package delivery system - thesis by Dylan F Glas - 2000

The big problem with such a scheme is that for any distance of interest, e.g. London to Brisbane, the energy required is fairly close to what is needed to get to orbit. So it is not as if this is an just an incremental step for a suborbital system.

Using such vehicles for passenger service has also been proposed.

Earthquake Prediction from Orbit
There is some evidence that potential earthquake zones produce extremely low frequency EM waves (ELF) prior to the actual event. There are experiments underway to test this theory.

For example, EarthquakeTracker.com is "a collaborative effort to track and monitor the ELF (Extremely Low Frequency)magnetic field fluctuations, generated by the earth near fault zones, as a possible precursor to large earthquakes (M5+)." They are focusing on the faults in California with the help of school groups who install and monitor ELF sensors.

However, such projects only cover a small area. A student group at Stanford is building a small satellite called Quakesat to test whether such signals could be detected from orbit. The 3kg satellite is based on the CubeSat nano-satellite design developed at Stanford and now being used by a number of groups.

The satellite would operate for 6 months. Placed in a polar orbit of about 800km altitude, the satellite would scan the entire global surface every 4 days.

Two previous satellite missions, the French Aureol 3 and Russian Cosmos 1809, picked up ELF activity prior to earthquakes.

If the tests with Quaksat prove promising, the commercial firm Quakefinder, LLC plans to build a larger, long life satellite. It would sell its earthquake forecasts like meterological firms sell weather forecasts. It would also sell the ground support sensors.

Quakefinder is a spinoff of the investment firm Stellar Ventures, Projects - ELF Sensing. Stellar Ventures is the investment arm of Stellar Solutions, an aerospace consulting group.


Data Purchase - Space Science for Hire
It has long been suggested that NASA could encourage development of private space transportation and other space projects by hiring them for science and engineering research purposes. NASA, for example, could pay a company to carry a scientific payload along with its primary commercial payload.

Or, with so-called "data purchase" agreements, NASA would pay if and when data in a given area of interest was returned. For example, Spacedev has had a long standing proposal to fund an asteroid prospecting probe if NASA would agree in advance to pay for data obtained. Spacedev would take the financial risks if the mission failed but could use the NASA promise to raise the money.

So far NASA has not backed the Spacedev project but it has recently agreed to some science and engineering research cooperation with commercial space projects. These include:

Space Activist/Business Combo
There have been a number of attempts by various space advocacy groups and individuals to try to develop space development organizations along the lines of the National Geographic Society. That is, use donations and other voluntary contributions of time and effort with commercial activities such as magazine subscriptions and documentaries to support a space program such as a lunar or Martian settlement. See, for example, The Martian Trust and 4Frontiers Corporation.


Entrepreneurial Space Organizations
The following organisations try to support space startups,s innovative projects, etc:

More Space Startups, Small Companies, & Ideas for Space Commerce

Continue to

  • Top: Introduction + News + GEO Space Businesses - information & links concerning businesses that rely on satellites in geostationary orbits.
  • LEO + Support Space Businesses - information & links concerning businesses that rely on satellites in low and medium altitude orbits. Also, links to various businesses, such as those that build ground stations, that support the systems based in space.
  • Space Business Resources - various resources related to space businesses such as links to space investment sites, research reports, etc.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey








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