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Tue, Apr 15, 2008

Commercial Space Travel Too Risky For Venture Capitalists?

Analyst Says Several Companies Could Turn Profits Relatively Soon

There have been many parallels noted between the high-tech boom of the late 90s, and what many expect will be the coming boom in commercial space exploration and tourism. But so far, there's one big difference.

Investor's Business Daily reports the new era of commercial spaceflight has yet to attract meaningful participation by venture capital firms.

It's not for lack of promising business plans. George Whitesides, executive director of the National Space Society, notes "Space is not cheap... but if you look at the business models, some of these companies could be making money relatively quickly."

So far, the money driving the commercial space projects underway has come from veterans of the tech sector... no strangers to taking big risks, or in weathering setbacks.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has $30 million invested in Scaled Composites, much of which came in to fund SpaceShipOne, the winner of the $10 million Ansari X-Prize. PayPal co-founder Elon Musk has more than $100 million of his personal fortune in Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which is building rockets for space travel.

Last year, Google announced the Google Lunar X Prize, offering $30 million in prize money for teams that successfully land a robot on the moon.

Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, says 10 teams have signed up so far, and another 10 likely will. He expects the 20 teams collectively will spend more than $400 million on the contest.

Guillermo Sohnlein, co-founder of Space Angels Network, which helps commercial space ventures find funding, observed the efficiency of the X Prize in moving the sector forward. "All they had to do was dangle $30 million dollars in prize money and they get maybe a half-billion dollars in innovation. Where else could you get that kind of return?"

Analysts agree that some successful headlines from private space companies could get the attention of venture capital firms, and start the money flowing soon.

Get their attention? Gee... if only there was some way to combine the excitement of kerosene-liquid-oxygen rockets with the proven model of NASCAR. Hmmm...

FMI: www.scaled.com, www.spacex.com, www.xprize.org

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