Space – the final frontier
I also recently answered some specific questions with regard to Astrobotic and to amplify my answers on the video, here are those written responses:
Other companies are selling people rides into space. What is Astrobotic selling?
Physical and Web access to the lunar surface. Sending commercial products, and research gear for space agencies. A roving robot videographer that tweets and answers phone calls.
Is there really a lunar market?
Two broad markets: resources/science and entertainment. The moon has energy and mineral resources. Astrobotic’s first mission will be a prospecting expedition, to find the richest deposits of water ice to turn into rocket propellant. Thereafter there will be many other resource and science missions. And of course eventually a moonlab.
Imaginary space adventures gross billions in the film and TV industries – this will be the first chance to monetize real space exploration. Since a robot is the star, it can be highly interactive, talking with thousands of people simultaneously.
How much can Astrobotic make on its first expedition?
Profit on the very first mission is going to be more than $70 million, and they only need to raise $20 million to pull it off. Progress payments from customers before launch to cover the rest of the costs.
How is Google involved here?
The Google ‘twins’ put up a $30 million purse for the first two robotic expeditions completed by the private sector. Competitors like Astrobotic need raise development funds to launch their missions, and then claim the prize.
Is Astrobotic building a rocket to reach the Moon?
No, they’ve got a contract on the same rocket that NASA is using for cargo to the Space Station. The Falcon 9 from SpaceX is being marketed at a breakthrough price, one of the reasons that private Moon expeditions are feasible now.
Why did you invest, and why now?
There’s a mega-trend in space, to commercial companies that deliver at far less cost than governments. Personally, I’ve bought a ticket to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic. NASA will start using commercial taxis to send astronauts to the space station. Even spy satellites have commercial alternatives at Digital Globe and GeoEye. Astrobotic will get the foundational patents simply by being the first to solve lunar challenges. Space agency customers hate risk, so they’ll pick a demonstrated successful company over an untested competitor every time. Astrobotic will set itself up for a long run of near-monopoly profits in moon missions.
Update 18 Feb 2012: CNBC published a longer article on Space Investing, including Astrobotic, entitled “To infinity and beyond: Investing in Space Travel”.