A Closer Look at Which Space Companies U.S. VC’s are Investing in

Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s new publication, “Economic Development of Low Earth Orbit,” consists of a series of papers that examines a number of important policy questions that will be of rising importance as NASA transitions human spaceflight in LEO to the private sector.

One of the papers, “Venture Capital Activity in the Low-Earth Orbit Sector,”
has detailed information on what U.S. venture capitalists have invested in. Key excerpts from the paper follow.
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Start-Up Space Report Shows More Venture Capital Invested In 2015 Than In Prior 15 Years Combined

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Tauri Group PR) – The year 2015 was a record-setting year for start-up space ventures with investment and debt financing of $2.7 billion (excluding debt financing, $2.3 billion). Nearly twice as much venture capital ($1.8 billion) was invested in space in 2015 than in the prior 15 years, combined. More than 50 venture capital firms invested in space deals in 2015, the most in any year during the 15-year study period (2000-2015).

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Skybox Imaging Selects Arianespace to Launch Satellite Block

Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012)
Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012)

EVRY, France, March 17, 2015 (Arianespace PR) — Arianespace has signed a contract to launch a block of high resolution imaging satellites for Skybox Imaging aboard the Vega launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in 2016.

“We are extremely proud to play a part in deploying Skybox’s satellite imaging constellation.” said Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël. “The Vega launch system has already achieved four flawless flights for commercial and government customers. This new contract with Skybox marks our first U.S. customer of the Vega and adds to Vega’s order book of nine small satellites to be launched in the coming three years.”

About Arianespace

Arianespace is the world’s leading satellite launch company, providing innovation to its customers since 1980. Backed by 20 shareholders and the European Space Agency, the company offers an international workforce renowned for a culture of commitment and excellence. Arianespace is the only operator in the world capable of launching any mass to any orbit from the Guiana Space Center. As of March 17, 2015, 221 Ariane launches, 36 Soyuz launches (10 at the Guiana Space Centre and 26 at Baikonur with Starsem) and four Vega launches have been performed. The company’s headquarters is in Evry, near Paris, and has local offices in Washington DC (United States), Tokyo (Japan) and Singapore.

Bessemer Venture Partners Starts Spacetech Practice

Bessemer_Venture_Partners_logoMENLO PARK, March 2, 2015 (BVP PR) — Bessemer Venture Partners announced today that it has recruited Scott Smith of Iridium Communications, Inc. as a part-time Operating Partner, where he will help identify and advise portfolio companies in what BVP calls the emerging “spacetech” sector.

Smith will continue to serve as Chief Operating Officer and a board director of Iridium, operator of the world’s largest commercial satellite constellation. He previously served in the same role at Digital Globe. In addition to his experience at aerospace industry leaders, Smith’s background includes space tech startups: in 1995 he co-founded Space Imaging, and he recently served on the board of Skybox until its acquisition by Google.

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Number of Billionaires Investing in Space Projects Grows

Forbes has published its annual list of the planet’s billionaires. A small but growing number of them are either directly supporting major space projects or doing so through the companies that they run.

FORBES RANKNAMEAGE
2015 NET WORTH (BILLIONS)
SOURCE(S) OF WEALTH
SPACE INVESTMENT(S)
 15Jeff Bezos51 $34.8Amazon.comBlue Origin
16Mark Zuckerberg30
 $33.4FacebookGlobal satellite network
19Larry Page41$29.7 GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Resources, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
20Sergey Brin 41 $29.2GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
43Charles Ergen62$19.8DISH NetworkDISH Network
51Paul Allen62 $17.5 Microsoft, investmentsStratolaunch Systems, SETI, Mojave Aerospace Ventures (SpaceShipOne)
100Elon Musk43$12PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCitySpaceX
137Eric Schmidt59$9.1GoogleSpaceX, Google Lunar X Prize, Planetary Ventures, Skybox
330Richard Branson
64$4.8Virgin GroupVirgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, OneWeb
1006Kavitark Ram Shriram58$1.9Google, venture capitalPlanetary Resources
1105H. Ross Perot, Jr.56$1.8 Computer services, real estatePlanetary Resources
1324Charles Simonyi 67$1.4MicrosoftPlanetary Resources
1415Peter Sperling55$1.3University of PhoenixEcliptic Enterprises

I’ve added Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to the list this year. His company is reportedly working on a global broadband network that would involve satellites, although details of the plan have not been made public.

I’ve left off Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberte, who came in at number 1006 with a net worth of $1.9 billion. Although he once took a trip to the International Space Station, he is not known to be funding any major space projects at the moment.

Update: I’ve added Charles Ergen and Peter Sperling to the list. Big shout out to Rex Ridenoure over at Ecliptic Enterprises.

Google Invested $900 Million in SpaceX

Google_logo_newGoogle invested $900 million of the approximately $1 billion in new funds raised by SpaceX last month, according a document the company filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday. This means that Fidelity Investments contributed the other $100 million.
In the filing, Google said it invested the funds “to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.” The money is believed to be focused on a plan to launch 4,000 satellites to provide global broadband coverage.
Google is already experimenting with this technology in Project Loon, which uses high altitude balloons to delivery Internet to remote areas.
“Loon has helped students in Brazil and farmers in New Zealand experience the power of an internet connection for the first time,” the company said in its filing. “And as the program expands, we hope to bring this to more and more people — creating opportunities that simply did not exist before for millions of people, all around the world.”
Google also discussed its $478 million acquisition of Skybox Imaging.
“We expect the acquisition to keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery and, over time, improve internet access and disaster relief,” the company said. “Of the total purchase price of $478 million, $6 million was cash acquired, $69 million was attributed to intangible assets, $388 million was attributed to goodwill, and $15 million was attributed to net assets acquired. The goodwill of $388 million is primarily attributable to the synergies expected to arise after the acquisition. Goodwill is not expected to be deductible for tax purposes.”