Its clear that Armadillo and Masten are going to take their lander technology and pursue scientific and other payloads to the ignoreasphere. (IE the space between 100Kft and 150Km). If we had won any LLC $ at all our plans would be similar. This by itself is not going to change the world. (Masten article in AV week
In an optimistic scenario it allows both Masten and Armadillo to become cash flow positive and continue to develop. From a pure business stand point one can count the number of heads in the masten shop make some educated guesses about rent and insurance etc.. and one would come up with a burn rate some where between 500K and 1.5M a year. So the new found prize money buys them another year of operation. Today's masten press release had a figure of about 100K per flight. Assuming they have good gross margins and get 20 or so customers a year they have an on-going growing business.
Beyond the scientific payloads to the ignorasphere you will have people like scaled/virgin providing man tended flights to this region for prices double what Masten is quoting for a "Brick" When that starts happening Mastens prices are going to have to plummet to compete.
The next big step is some sort of orbital capability. I don't see a clear revenue path for incremental improvements from high suborbital to orbital. The Technology shown by armadillo and Masten (hover for ~200 sec iat 9.8m/sec) give a DV of 1962m/sec. To reach orbit with a small high drag vehicle (small == high drag) one needs at least 8000 m/sec dv. Giving some credit for vac ISP gains and calling the present vehicles the 2nd of three stages one could probably put a 5 lb "brick" in orbit with a gross lift off on the order of 10000 lb. Is there a market?
Clearly spacex has demonstrated there is a potential market for 200Kg payloads, but 50 to 100 times smaller? Can either Masten or Armadillo grow into this spot without significant outside capital? Only time will tell.
I'm a real fan of simple dumb booster. The series LEO on the cheap
has a lot going for it. As I've said before I really liked the Beal Aerospace approach, big simple pressure fed. I just think he aimed too high for the first vehicle. Something 10 times smaller would have been a good start.
Even starting there its hard to rough out a plan that does not take $50M+ to get to cash flow positive and profitable. Virgin recently got investments on that order and maybe they can grow into this space.
I've often thought about writing a detailed business plan to seek funding, but I have major personal resistance to becoming another one on the long list of people that say "just write me a really large check and trust me I'll build a spacecraft that owns the market." To properly assemble a plan that could realistically get funding is a lot of work with low probablity of success.
The engineering is not really even a big part of the problem, one has to also build a functioning organization with Management, recruiting, HR, legal, government liaison, etc.... It would be hard to just bring forth such an organization in a timely manner given infinite funds. Space lauunch is such a broad problem covering so many disciplines It would be really hard to find someone to
organize the business part if you had the perfect engineering team already in place. How many people have a sset up a brand new manufacturing facility on that scale in the U.S. in the last 20 years? Not many.
Where do I go from here? The question is a lot broader than the technical topics discussion I wrote last week. Do I want Unreasonable to be a slightly profitable side business?? Do I want to compete against Masten/Armadillo as a the lowest cost provider? Can I contribute something technically to this 'space'? Do I have the chutzpa to try creating a externally funded start up?
I've worked at funded start ups and my current business that was started with zero outside $ in 1998 was a lot simpler to start and has done well. How far outside of my personal comfort zone would I like to stretch?
I've even contemplated sending a resume to Spacex, but I have not figured out where we could live within driving distance to Hawthorne without a reduction in our standard of living.
On a personal level its been a hard week watching the LLC awards ceremony and having tons of people tell me our accomplishments were amazing. Feels a lot like I think 4th place at the Olympics would feel. Amazing results, just not as amazing as gold,silver and bronze. Its really frustrating at some level.
Over the last year my schedule was up at 5am work on Unreasonable til 8:30 take a shower go to work, come home at 6pm work on unreasonable. This last week I've been getting to work before 7 and leaving around 4:30. Coming home and feeling lost. I still have not gotten up the motivation to tackle the entropy in the workshop.
I'm gathering up some data on the technical performance of Masten, Armadillo, unreasonable and several other interesting ideas and some time in the two weeks I'm going to do an ideas with supporting "numbers" post.