Entrepreneurial Muscle Ready For Flexing

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado - Entrepreneurs offer great promise in transforming the business of space, be it for spurring innovative space applications to hauling the public into space.

That was the consensus from the panelists on "The Entrepreneurial Spirit" session held Wednesday here at the 21st National Space Symposium.

Panel moderator, Courtney Stadd, President of Capitol Solutions, noted that Mike Griffin, newly nominated to take the helm of NASA, brings to the space agency "entrepreneurial sensibilities" - something unique in its history.

Yet James Benson, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SpaceDev, cautioned that the growing entrepreneurial space sector -- of which SpaceDev is among their number -- should be dealt with pragmatically. Those contracting such firms should "reward success and punish failure," he said.

"Check their track record before you give them money," Benson advised, and before funding such space entrepreneurial companies, any contractor should carry out due diligence before getting involved.

"Keep it simple and successful" is the philosophy to embrace, Benson said, in moving forward on building and emplacing new space infrastructure. Moreover, there is the need for the smaller commercial companies to provide product via fixed price contracts, he said, with fixed price rewards for hitting milestones of progress.

"Everything is different now," advised David Gump, President of Transformational Space Corporation LLC. NASA appears to have undergone a "Vulcan mind meld" with space entrepreneurs, in terms of listening to and funding start-up space firms, he said.

Gump reported that his newly created company - currently focused on NASA's space exploration initiative -- mixes "outside innovators with inside experts."

"We have been trapped in the space field by relying on heritage hardware and software;" Gump explained. There are new tools and technology to achieve highly reliable space hardware and to build up critical infrastructure, he said.

Gump's guidance for NASA is for it to aim for a true lunar frontier, meaning that government should lead rather than own. The proper role of government, he added, is to rent and lease infrastructure from private operators.

As cislunar space is transformed into a place of commerce, space flight can be made to be far more affordable than in the past, Gump said.

Shashi Raval, Chief Executive Officer of Novariant, Inc., portrayed entrepreneurs as passionate individuals with a desire to change the world. They "connect dots from many different fields," he said.

It is also important for entrepreneurs to realize that failure is a learning process from which progress can occur, Raval explained.

Briefly reviewing the Internet and the proliferating information technologies sector, Raval said, many innovations are missed by gurus of industry.

A key question, Raval asked, is whether a "Google-type" company will emerge from the space industry.

Raval suggested that miniaturization of space hardware may enable thousands of new enterprises. Entrepreneurs will invent applications and enable markets that big players don't see, he said.

Commercial human spaceflight was addressed by George Nield, Deputy Associate Administrator, Commercial Transportation, at the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Nield outlined the work of entrepreneurs that are moving into and shaping the suborbital passenger travel market. It appears that breakthrough technologies are not needed, he said, for this first wave of passenger paying space travel.

As for the space tourism, Nield said that dollar and people projections are encouraging, not only for a blossoming suborbital market, but also passenger flight into orbit. He said large investments by wealthy individuals show that "they are putting money where their mouth is" in making public space travel a reality.

Nield delineated the keys to public flight into space: A supportive national policy; realistic objectives; non-federal funding; and a clearly demarked and solid regulatory framework.

New space policy direction from the White House is supportive of commercial human space flight, the FAA official said. "We're committed to do our part to support this exciting industry."

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.