Beyond Asteroids & Spaceships: Making Money in Space
Friday, October 12th, 2012
by AJ Plunkett
Making money in the commercial space industry isn’t new, and it isn’t just about building new spaceships and asteroid mining. It can be about discovering new and better ways to use technologies developed for space.
Energy & Zero G
For instance, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has found a way to imitate zero-gravity conditions in a gravity-bound Earth laboratory environment. The CSA wants to license it to a private entity that can make use of it — say in testing components destined for use in space, where repairs can be costly (not to mention inconvenient).
The European Space Agency, meanwhile, wants to license out a reliable power-maximizing electrical energy-generation system, and it’s already been pre-tested, using solar generators on spacecraft.
Getting in on the commercial space industry can also involve taking advantage of shrinking — but still lucrative — government contracts.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, for example, has a need for 100 miniature pressure transducers. (If you know what those are and want more information, go here, but note the amendments.) Then there’s the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia that needs a company to launder the smocks, hoods and booties worn in cleanrooms — places where work needs to be done in pristine conditions.
Those opportunities don’t sound as sexy as building a spacecraft or exploring asteroids for sources of new riches, but the money is there. Note that the aerospace and defense industries in the United States generated $320 billion in sales revenue in 2010, according to an economic impact study by Deloitte financial consultants.
That attractive number made the U.S. aerospace and defense market the largest in the world, followed by Europe, and then Canada, according to Deloitte, referencing a study by the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe.
Significant parts of those markets have been built on government investment. In prepared remarks for a recent U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on the future of the commercial space industry, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, noted that space satellites today provide society with the benefits of global positioning systems for navigation and Earth observation data for better weather forecasting.
“While the original investment for each of these examples came from the federal government, the commercial sector went on to make them profitable industries,” Rockefeller said.
Space Agencies & Entrepreneurship
NASA, the CSA, and the European Space Agency (ESA) all have online “how-to” sites for entrepreneurs who want to do business with each agency, but expect NASA’s process to be a tad more complicated than the other two. Some highlights from each online portal:
Probably the best place to start is with the ‘Business Opportunities at NASA’ page. There, you can find links to NASA’s acquisition system, how to bid on contracts and track contract actions, as well as a forecast of upcoming procurement plans.
More importantly, there is a link to the ‘Small Business’ programs page, which seems to offer friendlier information, particularly under the link ‘Doing Business with NASA’. There is also a link to NASA’s ‘Innovative Partnerships’ program, which has information on business incubators and ways to develop and commercialize NASA-funded technology.
CSA’s online ‘Industry’ page seems to be the easiest of the big three space agency sites to navigate. It has links to ‘Announcements of Opportunity’ and ‘Business Opportunities’ as well as one to the MERX Canadian Public Tenders database, a searchable tool for sifting through all government opportunities.
A link to the right on the MERX site (under ‘Upcoming Events’) lists future seminars on how to learn about doing business with the various Canadian government agencies.
The European Space Agency’s portal ‘Business with ESA’ is helpful, almost to a fault, with myriad ways to find help.
For newcomers, the best place to start is with the ‘How to do business with the ESA’ page, which offers a topic-by-topic rundown of what to do and when to do it. Here you’ll find links to the ESA’s database of available contracts.
Otherwise, check out each of the sites on the main page for information on business incubators, opportunities with the telecommunications industry, and International Space Station projects, and even help in finding financial backing.
What’s more, ESA says it has a ‘virtual marketplace’ of technology transfer opportunities, with about 450 technologies or materials currently available for transfer or licensing.
As exciting as all this sounds, some space agency pages and some opportunities are more up-to-date than others.