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NewSpace 2010: Space – Open for Business Panel

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 23, 2010

Space: Open for Business
Panel Discussion

Burton Lee – Managing Partner, Innovarium Ventures (Moderator)
Esther Dyson – EDventure Holdings
Bob Richards – CEO, Odyssey Moon
Jim Ball – Center Development Manager, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Jim Ball
Center Development Manager, NASA KSC

  • LCRATS – Low Cost, Reliable Access to Space
    • Commercial space transportation
    • Commercial in-space services
    • Private orbital facilities
    • Commercial HSF
    • Space-based power
  • Goal is to provide reliable access to space facilities
  • Fifty years of operational and flight experience at KSC – valuable experience that can help commercial operators
  • KSC has gone into a “listen and learn” mode instead of a “broadcast mode”
  • Opening facilities and technical capabilities to commercial space needs
  • Apply KSC’s experience and expertise in overcoming technical hurdles and lower recurring costs
  • Transition KSC infrastructure to support multiple space transport systems
  • Serve as a flight test center and prototype test beds
  • Partnerships with FAA, USAF, Space Florida and commercial space firms
  • Exploration Park at Kennedy Space Center
    • Commercial space cluster at KSC
    • Recently broke ground
    • Cooperation with Space Florida
    • Space technologies and also clean energy, automation, robotics, etc.
    • Ideal location for international business
  • Know for launches, but not known as a center of innovation even though this is true
  • “We believe it is not rocket science, it is good business.”
  • You do not resolve what is going to happen until there’s action on the FY 2011 budget
  • No one expects that people will turn the clock back and proceed with the “program of record”
  • KSC moved out very quickly to embrace the direction they were receiving from the White House – realizing that it had to be worked out with Congress
  • KSC Center Director Robert Cabana’s message: commercial space is going to happen, just a matter of when, and we’re prepared to make this culture change – we’ll be better off in the long run to make the transition
  • Anything that extends the status quo will not allow help us much

Esther Dyson

  • Government and investors are thinking short term about very small things
  • Joined delegation to visit congressional delegations – so depressing – how many jobs would be lost in my state before the next election
  • With luck, the government will no longer do these “crazy cost-plus contracts” they will simply buy things
  • Market needs more visibility, transparency and more businesses buying from each other – industry of closed silos

Bob Richards

  • A company he worked for in Canada build a sensor for Mars Phoenix
  • Turned a $30,000 item that the company sold every day into a $30 million project
  • Built on a plus-cost basis
  • Actually felt bad about it…

Q: Wouldn’t commercial space have more support if it delivered on things?

Esther Dyson

  • Always takes 10 years to happen
  • Things start to happen in about year 8 when everyone has given up

Bob Richards

  • Agreed with the 10 year cycle
  • Sometimes it takes 7 years

Burton Lee

  • Tesla Motors just did IPO
  • Big question: when will Elon Musk do a SpaceX IPO
  • If that happens, then things will change significantly
  • U.S. and Europe will significant shrink in terms of venture capital
  • Emerging markets – China and Brazil – will be increasing in VC

Esther Dyson

  • VCs are looking for cool new things to do, but they don’t see space as being it yet

Q: What impact could the NASA budget have on commercial space?

Esther Dyson

  • President’s budget was by and large the right thing – it was so badly promoted that its sad for the U.S. and the planet
  • Budget could be very positive – if it doesn’t pass, commercial space will prevail but it will be much more difficult
  • Must be a lot of people in NASA who realize that what they’re doing is not working
  • The system is “tragic”

Bob Richards

  • Company has a space act agreement with NASA
  • Each side is taking risk
  • “NASA has been great.”
  • Not a gift – hiring NASA to help commercialize something
  • Experiment – if it works, we will have proven a business model that negates need for R&D investment and having leveraged an amazing asset in NASA
  • Model can be adapted by other businesses

Gary Martin

  • More support for commercial partnering at NASA than he’s ever seen in 20 years at the agency
  • Everything on Space Act Agreements must goes through HQ
  • It makes the process last very long
  • A lot of people who want to partner on biofuels, life sciences and other areas – difficult because no one at HQ has a clear mandate over these areas

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