Friday, March 16, 2012

Ideas about business and a request for feedback...

The world is changing, the internet is providing a level playing field that spans the world. Hacker spaces, distributed group projects, crowd sourcing, crowd funding, social media, internet based print and media publishing etc... Like minded people can group together and accomplish wondrous things.

For awhile I've been thinking that this energy could be harnessed to create a space/rocket project. I recently read that Copenhagen suborbital has a a subscription model. Kickstarter recently had its first $1M project. Armadillo aerospace started as a volunteer group. (with serious outside funding from John's video game success. ) Reality TV shows like orange coast choppers or junk yard wars show the media value of people tinkering with interesting projects..

My goal is clearly to build a NANOSAT launcher class vehicle.
  • What would a successful crowd sourced effort look like?
  • I'd like to do this in as open and public way as is possible with out going to jail (ITAR).
  • If I publish all the information along the way do I destroy the business case even if I'm 100% successful?
  • How would one get more people involved in the project?
  • How many people in the San Diego area would sign up for working one or two evenings every week and two Saturdays a month for a year(s)?
  • Anyone volunteer to be video guru and/or webmaster for such a project?
My personal ethics code would find it very hard to take $$ from the environment without explicitly giving something back? I could start taking deposits for future flights and try to do funding that way, alas this makes me really queasy as there have been space efforts generating press releases and taking deposits where the underlying organization has not fired a rocket motor or built a flying vehicle in more than a decade. Some of the efforts cross the line where its either outright fraud or serious delusion. I hope to never fall into this category..
For those that are new to my blog and my efforts take a look at this video starting at the 8 Minute point

If I did a kick starter project what would would be good collateral to offer for different funding levels?
  • Fly your business card to space?
  • A discount on future Nanosat launches?
  • Guest passes to watch launches?
  • Shop tours?
  • Weekly two way video chats?
  • Access to live shop web cams?
  • Early access to blog and video posts (1,2, 4 wk delay from post to public release?)
  • Bits of hardware.. IE the actual GOPRO that took video from space with the origional SD card and unedited video.
  • Access to data?
Any thoughts on a subscription supporter model?
  • If I did this what value could I provide in return?
  • Is information/ blog entertainment enough to give back?
  • Any possibilities of doing some kind of reality TV program either web based or not?

I'd really like honest feedback from everyone on this. The most realistic response might be the observation that I'm completely certifiably nuts... My favorite recent joke is the one about the guy that goes to the hardware store and asks for "slightly neurotic glue" as he doesn't need full strength "crazy". For what I want to try to do I'll need full strength crazy and then some....


Jim Davis said...

My goal is clearly to build a NANOSAT launcher class vehicle.

The first questions that pop into my mind are:

Why a NANOSAT class launcher?

Is it because you think there is a strong business case to be made for such a product? If so, why not seek conventional financing?

Or is it because you think this is the smallest project that you can reasonably hope to bring to fruition? If so, what are the ethics of soliciting work and money for a product with questionable market prospects?

Paul Breed said...

>Why a NANOSAT class launcher?

1)Most likely to empower others to do interesting things in space without NASA sized budgets.

2)Smallest thing that can be made a viable standalone business.

>If so, what are the ethics of >soliciting work and money for a >product with questionable market >prospects?

If the only evaluation function was profit/market prospects then I'd go about it in a different way. I may still go down that path, this, but this is more of a discussion is there another way?

Can the joy of exploration development and discovery be disconnected from the hard market/investment and monetized in an ethical way all by itself?

I'm personally surprised by the following that Copenhagen suborbitals have gathered, they are doing a 100Km Joyride and generating lots of buzz/interest.

I'm personally a hard core free market capitalist. (What we have now is not my definition of free markets...) and this whole conversation is a little bit off kilter for me personally, but I'm exploring ....

Thanks for the really good questions...

Blackjax said...

I am not sure if you ever read anything over there but there is a specific thread on the NASASpaceFlight forums that might relate to this or at least provide you some useful information on crowd funding:;all

Having looked closely at crowd funding for years now and even visited the Kickstarter office in NYC, I'd like to offer a bit of advice. Before you start a project, have a clear, comprehensive marketing plan ready to execute. The projects which succeed are the ones who have ways of reaching a broad audience with their pitch and the kickstarter page simply provides a way for people who have been brought in via the marketing to act on their impulse. Projects which fail to achieve funding generally are those who expect to be found by people who browse kickstarter.

The second point I'd make is that a blog is a poor medium for enabling feedback and participation. Blogs can do two way communications but they are primarily intended for asymmetrical communications. If you plan to go the crowd route you should really consider how you are going to expand your tools to foster your crowd/community. You should consider using something like a google site ( which is structured for community communications or one of the heavily collaboration oriented wikis:

I'm not sure why you want a webmaster, there are plenty of free and/or low cost platforms which give you the ability to work with a community without having to hack out your own custom site.

Paul Breed said...

The reason I would want a web master typ person is that I generate a lot of video, stills, drawings, data etc... It takes time to present this in a useful way. One could jsut upload everything via a photo stream, but taking 200 pictures and presenting the 5 good ones takes time.

Sebastian said...

I don't see anything non free market nor not capitalistic. Free market means among many things you sell what you want and how you want. Free market does not mean all its players have to be rational or whatever.

Excitement and taking little part in something one is interested have value as well.

Speaking in market terms there is a demand for such things and Copenhagen Suborbitals has clearly shown that. The are many people who do not have a push, a will, a time, a dedication, money (it taks , a whatever to dive fully into so demanding hobby like making space flying rockets. Only some exceptional individuals like you can do that and do that. But I think there are many out there who lack capability, cant afford, etc doing that on oneselves, but still could afford taking little part like spending few bucks and some time and in return share the excitement.

IOW if there is a demand for taking just tiny part in some exciting but big hard and complex effort why not provide it?


Max said...

First off, I'm not an expert in any conceivable way on crowd funding, but I am deeply interested in it and have watched it grow / have backed projects for over a year now.

For a few things I think I noticed about it:
- As has been noted, success for any sum depends heavily on the size of the audience one hopes to reach. Starting a project and letting a couple of people know on a blog perhaps won't cut it, unless the amount to be raised is minuscule, or the object of the drive is hugely significant to many, many people. Not reaching your audience is fatal - there is a Dr. Who parody group who even have their own fan-fiction crowd stalling right now on Kickstarter, in spite of their low target and the original show's global penetration. I expect you'd need a significant 6-7 figure sum, and that takes a huge crowd. Seriously. A huge one.

- Expected rewards are immensely important. The difference between "This is way cool, I'd really like it to happen" and "I can get a quality adventure game for pocket change after years of hiatus" or "I can get my own mini CNC mill for 3-4-500$" is the difference between stalling at low 5 figures and raking in $3.3M as Tim Schafer just did. If your primary target is not the object offered as reward, you then have to consider which category do your rewards fall into for most interested people. Smaller bands who do have an audience but drive for support for their next tour can stall at even 4-figure targets...

- Being able to participate through more detailed pic / video diaries might get a bunch of people to chip in at the very low pledge levels, but not likely higher. Only you know if you hold the kind of interest / numbers of visitors to get a significant result pursuing that tier (the $5-$25 zone always seems to represent the far overwhelming majority of pledges, with 3+ figure ones seeing only a few hits).

Based on the above, I'm frankly skeptical about crowd-funding being a good fit for what you want to do; even though I'd very much like to see you succeed anyway. Sorry for being negative about it... Either way, good luck!

Pete said...

DIY drones, open development of quadrotors, and so forth might be a reasonable model to follow. Any chance you can develop very small rocket engine components that might enable DIY controllable miniature rocket vehicles? Component cost would I suspect have to get down to a few hundred dollars each in order to start such a "crowd sourced" type market.

Staging a quadrotor (good to 10-15km) plus a miniature rocket vehicle enables very high altitude and a lot of interesting development, experiments and markets. Although a major initial market might just be miniature reusable rocket powered model airplanes/rockets.

A first task might be the development of a say 25N LOX/Kerosene plug and play, regeneratively cooled and highly controllable engine module with brushless motor powered turbo pumps. An engine that would say enable a four engine controllable platform, or whatever. It would be desirable to get the unit cost down to a few hundred dollars each, and then start selling it in numbers. If you can develop a bit of a community, not only will the market be significant, but others will also start developing components for it.

Ed said...

If your goal is to launch nanosats, then you need to have some advantage over current launch providers. Currently nanosats piggyback in the nooks and crannies available on the launches of much bigger satellites. As I see it, the biggest advantage of a dedicated nanosat launcher might not be price - instead the advantage is not having to be the secondary or tertiary payload. If a small business or student group can go for launch immediately after building their satellite, rather than waiting for years for a launch opportunity, they will flock to you even if you're priced higher than your competitors.

I'd suggest aiming for a payload of a triple cubesat (30cm x 10cm x 10 cm, 3kg) or three cubesats. I'd further suggest contacting John Powell at JP Aerospace; having a zeroth stage lofting your rocket to 100 thousand feet does wonderful things for your mass fraction.

Pete said...

What about first going after the sub orbital "nanosat" market? Using that as a stepping stone to orbit.

How low cost could you make an XCOR Lynx type nanosat payload model rocket plane that could replace sounding rockets? Fueled vehicle weight of perhaps less than 50lb?

Anonymous said...

The Shackleton energy company tried to get funding for thier moonbase plans through crowdfunding. He got to $5517 of the planned $1,200,000.

Blackjax said...

(...continued from previous comment...)
Another possibility might be to found a space oriented Hackerspace similar to the Techshop model which would emphasize classes on space hacking related topics. I'd be willing to bet that there would be a market of people willing to travel to spend a weekend learning from you what you know about small rocket motor development and/or control systems in a hands on class. Given that you are well known and respected I have little doubt you could attract other lecturers as well to teach stuff you don't know. Right now there are educational options for full time students going into aerospace careers, but how does a person learn if space hardware is a hobby and the education/work needs to fit in around their day job? One of the things I love about my local hackerspace is that I can take random classes on whatever interests me and use the equipment for whatever I want rather than have it be part of formal progress towards some kind of degree.

As a side benefit for you, not only could you also learn from the classes which happen there and expand your own skillset, it would also give you access to a larger workshop, more sophisticated tools (tools you'd have trouble justifying buying only for yourself), and a pool of people interested in space technology work who might particpate in any projects you decide to do. It could be an incubator and facilitator for whatever other space business you decide to try as well as moving you from a footing where you are spending money on your passion to one where you are at least breaking even if not making some money. Moreover, something like the startup of a Hackerspace is relatively easy to sell from a crowdfunding standpoint. You don't even have to crowdfund the whole project, you can crowdfund specific parts of it. For example, need a laser cutter? Crowdfund the addition of one to the space. Benefits? Free time using it, curios which have been cut with it, contributors names on a plaque on it (or even name it after the largest contributor), etc. You might also consider using a hybrid combination of crowd funding models for different aspects of it at different times. Not all crowdfunding works like Kickstarter with donations and benefits at certain levels. Depending on what you are doing, other crowd funding models might be more appropriate; see here for more

Blackjax said...

(Not sure why, but this post keeps getting deleted)

** Why a NANOSAT class launcher?
* 1)Most likely to empower others to do interesting
* things in space without NASA sized budgets.
* 2)Smallest thing that can be made a viable standalone
* business.

I dunno if you read that thread I linked earlier, but in it I put a bunch of my own thinking around what is needed to "empower others to do interesting things in space without NASA sized budgets". I don't think that is likely to be more launch options. In the next few years you are likely to be seeing the launch market really fill out with a wide array of lower cost options with differing capabilities including everything from from existing sounding rocket providers to various companies like UP Aerospace, JP Aerospace, XCOR, Virgin, Armadillo, Masten, Blue Origin, Near Space, Whittinghill, and SpaceX (there are probably a few more I missed). This is not to mention the ability to fly some kinds of things with someone like Nanoracks. The ability to get your small payload up into space is already going to be accessible like never before whether you create an additional launch option or not. In fact, there is some risk that the capacity might grow faster than the demand and there could be too many launch options chasing the same payloads.

I really think the next focus for empowering people should be facilitating the creation of more payloads. How can you make it really easy for new entrants to create payloads and to make more of the potential market an actual market by helping them realize how launch a payload might meet their needs. So what specifically would the business be? There are a lot of different options outlined in the thread. That being said, my instincts say it is the development of low end standard busses and/or smallsat components which cater specifically to the low end of the market, along with integration services for tying the custom parts of a smallsat into the standard components.

(...continued in above comment...)

Anonymous said...

If I were you Paul, I'd build or go out and find yourself a good high performance turbine powered 25 klbf class regenerative engine that could burn methane and hydrogen with suitable tweaking of the plumbing, then cluster them up seven to a tank with the center engine doing the landing and the upper stage work, and you'd have yourself a very large dual fuel fully reusable launch vehicle in no time at all. Heck, I'd even be interested in funding something like that, You could get an engine from Orbitec or an number of other newspace/oldspace collaborations. That south Korean guy wants to sell some engines too, and there is great stuff coming out of central and eastern Florida. Don't set your sights so darn small.

The capsule is the hard part.

Anonymous said...

Full publication doesn't destroy your business case if you have much less execution risk than your competitors. I'd say you have demonstrated that you have low execution risk. A two man shop was a credible entrant in a million dollar rocketry contest? QED, literally.

Two days a week and two Saturdays a months is about the level of effort of ERPS's KISS project. That took roughly a year from concept to first successful flight. KISS was unguided, fin stabilized, monoprop peroxide, silver screens, low performance, parachute recovered, about as generic as liquid fuel gets, and it still took a year. A nanosat launcher is considerably more challenging, and will take more time.


heroineworshipper said...

A complete solution is a long way from perfecting a new type of component. The work you've done has always been component based. A new computer module, fuel tank, engine, or missile fin is more likely to make money than embarking on a complete system.

Ed said...

Watch out for ITAR.

Paul Breed said...

Some general comments....
The current suborbital market
(Other than for people) is an almost 100% artificial market created by the NASA CRUSR program. What the great NASA gives it can take away....
So I just don't get the suborbital experiment thing... recovery from high altitude is hard..... it adds a lot of complexity both as to where you can launch and mechanisms etc....

A very simple orbital launcher could actually be simpler than a suborbital vehicle that needs to do recovery. The Mass fraction has to be better and thus structures and EVERYTHING else needs real attention to getting the last gram of weight out, but its not that complicated. I believe that a nano sat orbital launcher can do sea launch from 200 mi off the coast of the U.S. and have almost no regulatory issues other than GPS based command shutdown of the first stage if it goes wildly wrong.

If you want to recover experiments then everything needs to be over land or water proof.

I believe that there is a potential real market for small cube sat sized launchers. I believe that this potential market is somewhat independent from U.S. government funding.

Every one seems to advocate for manned vehicles, I'd love to work on a small manned launcher, but I see that project as either a stunt with no real follow on business case... (See copenhegan suborbitals) or hugely more expensive.

If someone handed me the winning ticket to Tuesdays $240M mega millions drawing I'd start building a small falcon 1 sized two man launcher.

I think that is probably a $50M project at absolute minimum, taking lots of risks along the way....
Realistically I think Elon spent about $100M before the first successful Falcon 1.

My wild assed guess on a manned launcher:
Funding P success
10M 0.05
25M 0.10
50M 0.5
100M 0.8
200M 0.95

The Same table for a small nano single 3U nano sat launcher:
500K 0.05
1M 0.10
2.5M 0.5
5M 0.8
10M 0.95

I'm a successful entrepreneur, but I have no experience running an organization of $50M scale and really doubt that one could put the funding together, for such an effort, with out more credible management experience at that business scale.

I've profitably run engineering organizations of the scope and scale of the Nanosat launcher.

I always cringe when I see slide ware presentations that start with I get a $100M check... with no evidence that the presenter has ever managed anything larger than a household budget.

People that can write big checks are by and large not clueless.

Arrow said...

What is your "why" for this project? Do you want to build a company, do you want to build a community, do you want to start a movement? I've been strugling with these same issues at the moment and I'm constantly coming back to "why" (see Simon Sinek).

The NANOSAT class launcher is a very good "what" however you need to recognize that everyone is going to work on this project for different reasons, and that if you aren't clear why you're doing it, it may be difficult to achieve your goal even though it seems extremely clear.

For myself, I'll soon be trying to develop a strong hacker space community in my city. I want to do this through meetups to discuss projects, maybe start some projects in a similar vein (ie community oriented, open as possible, etc...). Also, I'm considering trying to start some prizes within the city to spur development and interest (what kind of prize could you develop for a NANOSAT launcher??).

I hope to hear more from this soon. I'm very curious how it goes for you.

Paul Breed said...

Why...Why.. Why...

Because I don't believe that space is or should be the exclusive domain of people with extremely large budgets. I believe that most progress is driven by small entrepreneurial groups or organizations. I see the only real solutions to the problems of exponential growth on a finite planet to be to remove the finite planet limitation. I don't believe that the doers, makers and creative inventors of the world can really start to exploit this until someone proves it can be done will less than NASA scale $$$.

If you can launch a 3U with propulsion and no other limitations for less than 250K, and minimal red tape how long before someone funds a fleet of asteroid explorers, or starts selling space burials, or real time neighborhood weather images...
or things I can't imagine...

If the minimum cost of doing any thing is millions of dollars and years of red tape then the cycle time is too slow.

I want to rekindle the unlimited possibility and the joy of unlimited exploration that was so prevalent in the era of Apollo.
You are never going to do this if only Billionaires and a few selected government employees have all the fun. Regular people have to feel like they can participate!

world to be r

Michael Monberg said...

If you haven't: Take a lok at Copenhagen Suborbitals these guys are DOING it!
500+ geeks like me are supporting them with 20$ each per month and they are building big and cheap.

Drop by Copenhagen to watch a launch test and you will see what can be done in an open source, crowd funded community. Or follow one of the founders on Wired:

Good luck with your project!

J.D. Muriel said...

My 2 cents:

I would gladly put 100$/year in this project, mainly because I share your goals. Pity I think there are not so many of us around :-(

Is information/ blog entertainment enough to give back?
Of course... much better than most programs on Cable TV!

Being an european space nut, it would be difficult for me to enjoy a launch guest pass or a shop tour. I would go for small physical tokens: space flown hardware or business cards would be perfect, or a printed photo of the view from space. But just knowing that I have helped would be enough .

Unknown said...

I have also thought alot about nano-launcher sized vehicles, is there a market or would there be one in a few years? Funding sources, etc

First off, I agree that the 'why' is to give creativity and exploration 'back to the people' for lack of a better phrase. I work for NASA, I appreciate what it does and what it did; I also appreciate how limiting it can be in scope, execution, creativity...things unimaginable now are waiting to happen in space if enabled by rapid-cycle, lower cost access.

I unfortunately don't have business experience to lend any real wisdom to the financing questions, but I say going for a Nano-launcher is worthwhile, and Kickstarter/subscription ideas are great tools to finance the project AND fan the flame of interest/creativity.

"How would one generate more interest?"
A website with frequent media updates would be a useful tool. I'm sure you have good data on how many hits your blog has gotten when you were in the middle of flight testing and posting video/data products on your website vs when you were blogging less frequently w/o media.

As far as interest in the San Diego area, I would be commited enough to travel to San Diego weekly/monthly for such a project at any scale.

Also, your note about the Suborbital market being artificial I believe is accurate, but momentum is gaining to the point I think such an industry could be self-sustaining within a few years without Flight Opportunities/CRuSR, although I think it would be small.

Chris (Robotbeat) said...

If you think you will avoid ITAR, I think that open-sourcing as much as possible wouldn't destroy the business case. Think about how many expired patents are out there... It's nowhere near trivial to recreate the inventions from scratch. The organization you build and the working-knowledge you have of the process is just as valuable, if not more so, than the details you release. I think of a group called All Power Labs who developed a wood-chip-gasifier-based generator pallet that gets wood chips on one end and electricity on the other. They open-source their designs, but they still can't keep up with all the orders they get. That's because it's nice to see exactly how the product will work and you can tell you're not going to get ripped off by an over-priced product (otherwise, you could just build it yourself!).

Open-sourcing your hardware is like free advertising. Sure, I could make a Makerbot Replicator from scratch (the design is all open-sourced), but that's a lot of work to pin-down all the different parts and get them laser-cut, etc. Far easier to pay a small premium and get the whole kit from Makerbot.

Plus, with open-sourcing your hardware, you get a lot of free technical advice, which can be invaluable. And open-sourcing your hardware /might/ (?) get you around ITAR, if you publish everything in detail in the public domain. I don't know, though, I'm not a lawyer. Definitely talk to an ITAR lawyer before starting a crowd-sourced funding rocket project like this.

Let us know what you find out about the legal aspect.

Rellag said...

>> If you can launch a 3U with propulsion and no other limitations for less than 250K


If this is your hypothesis, I would proceed with the following steps, in parallel.

a) Enumerate exactly what has to go right in order to meet $250k per launch. Be specific as to whether the issue is obtaining a specific mass fraction, large blocks of below-market computer time, or slave/volunteer fabrication labor.

b) get on the phone with every aero and EE department head in North America and engage them in a discussion about your [potential] 3U launcher and how it could be incorporated into the pedagogical curriculum or grant-based research.

If you do (a) and (b), you'll have spent very little money, 4 months of time, and obtained definitive answers about what resources you need to get to market. As an additional benefit, you'll have characterized the market and its members.

The more quantifiable specificity you can obtain about resources and market, the more likely you are to ask for the right things when you need them.

Clive said...

aul, give me a call. you got my number. We got a bunch of folks at Mojave Makers who want to do something like this. My biggest concern is that our various bosses (XCOR, Masten, Firestar) might not like us working on competing projects.

Blackjax said...

Seems like you now have the chance to see how funding a vehicle through Kickstarter might play out.

gruberallowal said...

The best choice of greeting card owner can also make a excellent impact to customers. They can come very useful, which supplement an executive's innovative look.

injury law firm milwaukee

Väinö Ukkonen said...

Good luck to you it seem that you have a lot of good ideas for this business and a lot of plan also.Just remember one things business ideas are meant to be happen and before that you need to make a good plan for those ideas.

sports handicapping software said...

thx you for your posts!!

Virtual call center solutions said...

I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here

Daniel said...

I would volunteer as webmaster!!!

For sure!!

I run two startups and

My ultimate dream is to combine nano printed materials to create high pressure nanolauncher class rockets for cheap cheap prices!

Anyway, give me a bell at if any needs, or anything at all I can do to help.

Roger over and out.

Daniel said...


"Staging a quadrotor (good to 10-15km) plus a miniature rocket vehicle enables very high altitude and a lot of interesting development, experiments and markets. Although a major initial market might just be miniature reusable rocket powered model airplanes/rockets."

Totally agree there Pete, an interesting initial product could be something like a low cost re-usable quadrotor airlaunched rocket kit.

I would kickstart the freakin hell out of that.

This type of project here gets me really excited, and stuff like wikisat also. It's real tangible stuff.

Corporate space is just starting to go, Community space is where there interesting action is for me at least.

Daniel said...

Worldwide Hackerspace

Encourage new entrants

Approach from the low end, where people can get on board
(high altitude launch permits for everyone!)

Hackers to orbit!

Sorry just a lone hacker dreaming out loud ..

Anonymous said...

Get some small country in space. Caribean islands come to mind.

Plastic Business cards said...

I think growth business depends upon that how much effectively show your presence in the market...More people you know means more revenue generated...

10 ways to earn money said...

This is the great article that i have been seeing before and this good fresh interface and nice informative articles. I will be coming back soon, thanks for the great article that you been posting...

10 ways to earn money

A Ali said...

Informative Blog Thanks for sharing...

Plastic card Printing

Fishing Costa Rica said...

Having looked closely at crowd funding for years now and even visited the Kickstarter office in NYC, I'd like to offer a bit of advice. Before you start a project, have a clear, comprehensive marketing plan ready to execute. The projects which succeed are the ones who have ways of reaching a broad audience with their pitch and the kickstarter page simply provides a way for people who have been brought in via the marketing to act on their impulse. Projects which fail to achieve funding generally are those who expect to be found by people who browse kickstarter.

Hotel en Corcovado said...

Interesting post thx a lot

Amit Yadav said...

valentine day wishes
valentines message for wife
valentines poems for boyfriend
valenines poems for girlfriend
valentines message for girlfriend

Anonymous said...

Great Blog

Loft Conversion London Builders

Love Kpop said...

I was a girl, but clumsy things. I do not know how to cook, sew, above, ca. I have too insipid and tedious, but that's my personality. It's hard to change