Suborbital Cargo Agents?

Last year, my family went out to the coast to spend the holiday with a good friend who does finance and project management work for a large aerospace company out there. We’ve been brainstorming various space business opportunities for some time to see if there were any interesting areas that we could both make money and make a difference in the utilization of space. While we were out there for Thanksgiving, Colin pitched the concept of making the equivalence of a Travel Agency for unmanned space experiments to fly on suborbital vehicles. I thought it was an intriguing idea at the time, but have been too busy to write anything about it (I’m also somewhat reticent to go too much into details that relate to the business of my day job without getting approval from Dave and the others). Anyhow, Colin started a Space Business blog this past month, and one of his first posts is discussing this very idea. I’d suggest reading the whole thing.

Michael Mealling once quipped that it was far easier to take a business guy and get him interested in space, than it was to take an aerospace engineer, and somehow get him to understand business. I’ll admit to being firmly in the “aerospace engineer that’s trying to understand business” category myself, so I think having blogs like Colin’s out there is a trend I hope to see increasing over the years.

Oh, and welcome to the blogroll, Colin!

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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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5 Responses to Suborbital Cargo Agents?

  1. Dave Salt says:

    Jon, you may be interested to know that Max Vozoff pitched a very similar concept during a DragonLab workshop in Holland, last October.

    His concept was for ‘brokers’ and ‘integrators’, who SpaceX expected to act as the interface between themselves and customers. Brokers would be expected to buy bulk opportunities and then re-sell them to a large number of customers, where as Integrators would simply act as service providers to SpaceX and so work as subcontractors. However, due to market uncertainties, they did not expect the ‘broker’ to be a viable business model until a large number of flights have demonstrated the real customer demand.

  2. Dave,
    Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised with Dragon Lab flights if the broker model would take some extra data to prove it was a business case. Dragon is so big that filling it up reasonably well would require several, possibly dozens, of customers. It’s one thing trying to find 5-15 cubesat customers, its a whole different animal trying to find 6000kg worth of flight experiments.

    I think things will eventually get there, but it’s going to take a while to rebuild the microgravity science world after the last NASA admin’s gutting of funding for that research, and the rest of the past 30 years experience with Shuttle being the only access method.


  3. In fact, when I talked to NASA’s CRuSR program, they spoke of conversations with SpaceX. SpaceX’s preference would be to outsource their experiment booking and experiment customer relations completely to Cargo Agents (‘brokers’, ‘integrators’). Which I found interesting coming from a company who is so vertically integrated! I think this further highlights the need for this type of service if even SpaceX sees the need for a such a service.

  4. Richard Garriott was saying at SpaceVision09 that he is looking into making it easier to find experiments for private astronauts to take up.. combined with a reduction in the cost per seat, he hopes, it could mean at least break even on the ride, even if no profit initially. That kind of tipping point will dramatically increase demand, which should drive supply… although demand is already greater than supply for the $30M seats.

  5. Ken Murphy says:

    “far easier to take a business guy and get him interested in space, than it was to take an aerospace engineer, and somehow get him to understand business.”

    Guilty as charged.
    The business that you’re talking about is freight forwarding. They consolidate the small shipments of various companies into the large freight containers. It’s a well-established industry, and can probably offer many lessons for the nascent commercial microgravity science industry.
    I’m more excited than ever about the potential for the space industry to become a growth industry for our nation. Heaven knows we desperately need growth industries right now. I’m also excited that I may soon have the opportunity, as an individual investor, to invest in this industry.

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