Start-up Space Blasts Off

Bryce Space and Technology has produced a new report, Start-up Space: Update on Investment in Commercial Space Ventures.

Below is the executive summary. You can also download the full report.

Executive Summary

The Start-Up Space series examines space investment in the 21st century and analyzes investment trends, focusing on investors in new companies that have acquired private financing. Space is continuing to attract increased attention in Silicon Valley and in investment communities world-wide. Space ventures now appeal to investors because new, lower-cost systems are envisioned to follow the path terrestrial tech has profitably traveled: dropping system costs and massively increasing user bases for new products, especially new data products. Large valuations and exits are demonstrating the potential for high returns.
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LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

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Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program.

LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

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Report: Google in Talks with Virgin Galactic on Equity Share, Satellite Launcher Deal

Google_logo_newAs I reported here exclusively back on May 11, Google has been in talks with Virgin Galactic for acquisition of its LauncherOne satellite technology and an equity stake in Richard Branson’s space tourism company. Sky News reports:

The talks are likely to lead to a deal with two main elements, according to insiders.

The first will see Google inject hundreds of millions of dollars into a joint venture, with Virgin Galactic folding in the technology it has developed as part of its efforts to build the world’s first space tourism business.

The second component will involve Google spending roughly $30m (£17.8m) in return for a small stake in the Virgin Galactic holding company.

The terms of the alliance have not yet been finalised and could yet be altered before a deal is struck.

A person close to Google said, though, that its £17.8m investment could value Virgin Galactic at as much as £1.2bn, equating to a shareholding of approximately 1.5%.

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After Sarah Brightman, Will Sergey Brin Fly to the International Space Station?

Sergey Brin
Sergey Brin

Google co-founder Sergey Brin could be the next space tourist to journey to the International Space Station.

Space Adventures President Tom Shelley told Reuters that Brin, whose net worth is $30.2 billion, has put down a deposit on a seat aboard a future Soyuz flight to the orbiting laboratory.

“He paid us a deposit and whenever we have a seat available, he has the right of first refusal,” Shelley said.

Shelley said the company could have an open seat in 2017.

Brin and co-founder Larry Page have a deep interest in space. Their company has sponsored the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize for the first private company to land a rover on the surface of the moon. This week, Google announced the purchase of Skybox Imaging, which provides images of the Earth from space. The company also is reportedly developing a satellite network to provide high-speed broadband services on a global basis.

Before Brin flies, British soprano Sarah Brightman, will pay $52 million for a 10-day trip to the space station in September 2015. She will be the ninth person to visit ISS as a tourist since Space Adventures sent Dennis Tito there in 2002.  Brightman plans to sing during her orbital trip.

Brightman is in a race with Lady Gaga to be the first professional singer to perform in space. For more on that story, click here.

 

Google Purchase Skybox Imaging for $500 Million

Google_logo_newMOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (Skybox PR) — We’re thrilled to announce that Skybox Imaging has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Google!

Five years ago, we began the Skybox journey to revolutionize access to information about the changes happening across the surface of the Earth.

We’ve made great strides in the pursuit of that vision.

We’ve built and launched the world’s smallest high­-resolution imaging satellite, which collects beautiful and useful images and video every day. We have built an incredible team and empowered them to push the state­-of­-the-­art in imaging to new heights. The time is right to join a company who can challenge us to think even bigger and bolder, and who can support us in accelerating our ambitious vision.

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Google Hires Space Broadband Experts, Eyes Skybox Imaging Purchase

Google_logo_newA couple of updates on Google’s emerging space program:

The company last month hired Brian Holz, who was chief technology officer at O3b Networks, which has launched special satellites to try to broadcast signals that would power new Internet service in developing countries around the world. Google had previously made a financial investment in O3b and one of its employees sits on O3b’s board. The startup’s recently-launched satellites faced technical setbacks this year.

Google also recently hired Dave Bettinger, who had spent 18 years at satellite firm VT iDirect, which supplies high speed broadband and other communications to military services and the oil and gas industry, according to people at Google. VT iDirect also suffered some product delays recently.

Parabolic Arc has previously reported that Google is eying 1,200-satellite constellation that would provide global broadband services. There are also reliable reports of a deal with Virgin Galactic involving the LauncherOne rocket being developed by Richard Branson’s company.

In a related deal, the Silicon Valley Internet giant is reportedly in negotiations to purchase Skybox Imaging:

Google is closing in on a deal for Skybox Imaging, a satellite company that specialises in recording very detailed landscape pictures and video, TechCrunch has heard from three different sources.

Google’s interest in Skybox, first reported in April by The Information, had already reached an advanced stage several weeks ago, with the two meeting in at least three rounds of acquisition talks, one source tells us. This was after people in the satellite industry started to hear rumors that Google was eyeing up Skybox, as well as another startup working in a similar area of satellite imaging, Planet Labs.

We now have heard that the deal with Skybox “is happening,” with one person estimating the price at roughly $1 billion. The same source said that at Skybox’s last fundraising round, when it picked up $70 million in 2012, it was valued at between $500 million and $700 million.

Orbital to Debut New Minotaur Variant

Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)
Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)

Orbital Sciences will debut a new variant of its Minotaur small satellite launch vehicle in late 2015 with the launch of six Skybox Imaging satellites, the company announced last week.

“The Minotaur-C rocket will use four solid rocket motors supplied by ATK as its propulsion system, all of which have been flown dozens of times and thoroughly flight-proven in various combinations on Orbital’s other small space launch vehicles, including Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur, as well as on the company’s Orbital Boost Vehicle (OBV) long-range missile defense interceptor,” the company said in a press release.

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