By Alex Hall on September 21, 2011
I was able to attend the MIT/Stanford VLAB event last night that was titled "Space Exploration, not just for billionaires any more". It was an excellent panel and the event was extremely well attended with a couple of hundred participants. Moderated by Amaresh Kollipara of Earth2Orbit LLC, the panel included former Google Lunar X PRIZE Senior Director, Will Pomerantz, now at Virgin Galactic, Nanorack's Rich Pournelle, Al Tadros from Space Systems/Loral, and Bob Richards from Moon Express.
The focus was on demonstrating how there are now many small and large companies operating in the commercial space sector and how there are numerous business opportunities, from medicine and pharmacology to materials science and mining. There was brief discussion about NASA's change of focus and willingness to work with the commercial sector, but the focus of the panel was not really on getting into space, which is what most people think about when they think about space, but what the opportunities were for business once you got there. This was a refreshing approach and one that would have resonated with many of the venture capital folks and other investors and opinion formers in the audience.
As Bob Richards pointed out in response to one of many really good questions, the panel itself represented the different places to do business in space. There was the sub orbital frontier, arguably opened up by the Ansari X PRIZE from 2004. There was the low earth orbit realm involving science on the International Space Station, and involving a number of companies (SpaceX, Blue Origin etc) that are from the NewSpace movement. Then there was the more traditional realm of satellites for communications, earth observation, defense etc and finally, a Google Lunar X PRIZE team representing the opening up of the next place to do business, the Moon!
For many of the people in the audience, I think this event definitely gave NewSpace a legitimacy in their minds that it didn't have before.