ACES Conference Summary Wrapup

Now that I finally have some time to breathe, I want to wrap up my ACES conference summary. It turns out the guys at ACES and Innovation Labs were able to get full transcripts of the whole conference, including pictures, video, etc. up on their site already. Check out some of the snazzy ad-lib art that the Innovation Labs guys did, like this, this, or this.

With all that taken care of, I just wanted to recap a few of the various thoughts or ideas that I saw come out of the conference:

  • While the results of microgravity research using the Shuttle/ISS infrastructure have been relatively unimpressive, with frequent, low-cost access to space, the whole situation can change very quickly.
  • It might be in the best interest of commercial launch providers to subsidize some of the basic research–investing in improving future demand for their launch services.
  • Launch frequency, and overall “hassle factor” are just as important as price when it comes to inhibitting or encouraging commercial space enterprises.
  • The idea of NASA doing the equivalence to “declaring bankruptcy” on the Internation Space Station was kind of interesting. Though they would likely only get pennies on the dollar for their sunk costs, it could free NASA from a lot of otherwise wasted expenses, while possibly spurring the development of commercial space. I’m not positive that there aren’t show-stoppers that would make this unworkable, but it at least sounds like an interesting idea.
  • There is a lack of succesful management teams in the entrepreneurial space industry.
  • NASA needs to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to space commercialization. Benign neglect is ok, but quit teasing us!
  • Government is great at creating pent up demand.
  • The idea came up several times to have ACES set up some sort of brokerage system that would help bring together launch service providers, financiers, launch service customers, and potential end users. Brokerage fees would be used to help subsidize the basic microgravity research, to insure that the applied science pump is kept continually primed.
  • Vender financing is an oft neglected method of raising funding for difficult ventures. If you have a vendor who you will be a major repeat customer for, they have a major stake in your success–having them invest in you in order to grow their future business is a win-win proposition (Note: if you haven figured it out, finding ways to craft win-win propositions is one of the keys to entrepreneurship). SpaceHab is a good example of this.
  • If you don’t know at least some of your potential customers by name, you don’t really have a solid marketting plan–you’re just handwaving.
  • One of my favorite quotes from the conference (referring to how NASA runs projects): “When the rewards for success become greater than the rewards for failure, it will be a transforming event.”
  • Resident laboratory setups: don’t ship the lab up and down all the time. Leave it in orbit. Just ship samples, supplies, and researchers up and down. Most Earth-based researchers don’t pack up their lab and take it home with them at the end of each day, why should space-based researchers?
  • NASA should be purchasing services, not products.

Anyhow, other than the announcement by Brant Sponberg (which I’ll discuss later), and an interesting conversation I had with Gene Myers (which I’ll also discuss later), that about wraps it up.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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