Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gold Rush

A Planet Labs video promoting their agricultural monitoring service using their RapidEye satellite constellation. Video source: Planet Labs YouTube channel.

The Tauri Group has issued a report — partially funded by NASA — which finds that venture capital in commercial space has increased dramatically in the last few years.

Start-Up Space: Rising Investment in Commercial Space Ventures reports that about $4 billion in venture capital was invested in “NewSpace” during the years 2011-2015. In the five years before, the total was $2.1 billion.

Last year was the most successful NewSpace year on record. According to the report:

The year 2015 was a record-setting year for space ventures with investment and debt financing of $2.7 billion.

  • 2015 was the largest investment year (excluding debt financing) of in the 15-year study period with investment of $2.3 billion.
  • More venture capital ($1.8 billion) was invested in space in 2015 than in the prior 15 years, combined.
  • More than 50 venture capital firms invested in space deals in 2015, the most in any year.

The report notes that SpaceX became the first NewSpace “unicorn” company, defined as a company with a valuation of $1 billion or more. “ Planet Labs could be the next unicorn in the space industry,” according to the report.

According to the Planet Labs web site, the company was founded in 2010 by ex-NASA scientists. “Planet Labs is driven by a mission to image the entire Earth every day, and provide universal access to that data.”

We started as a small team of physicists, aerospace and mechanical engineers in a garage, using the cubesat form-factor to inform the first designs of our Dove satellite. Just two years after our first satellite entered space, Planet now operates the largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites...ever.

Our satellites are collecting a radical new data set with endless, real-world applications. Whether you’re measuring agricultural yields, monitoring natural resources, or aiding first responders after natural disasters, our data is here to lend businesses and humanitarian organizations a helping hand. Planet believes timely, global imagery will empower informed, deliberate and meaningful stewardship of our planet.

A “flock” of Planet Labs Dove satellites deployed July 13, 2015 from the International Space Station. Video source: Planet Labs YouTube channel.

Planet Labs deployed fourteen small satellites last July. According to the Planet Labs web site:

Fourteen Doves were deployed from the International Space Station the week of July 13, 2015 — we call these Doves “Flock 1e”. They were deployed two-by-two from the Kibo Experiment Module arm of the International Space Station by a Nanoracks deployer. We’ve contacted all fourteen satellites and they’re all happy and healthy. This week we’re wrapping up our commissioning activities and getting some exciting new images down from our latest and greatest flock of Doves.

The Tauri Group's executive summary quotes one NewSpace investor:

You can now make money with space investment, which wasn’t largely a true statement before.

The report was partially funded by a NASA research grant. According to Page 6 of the report:

The Tauri Group conducted this study to characterize those in the investment community who are pursuing space opportunities, and to understand the motivations of these investors. This report will inform NASA and the public about activity in this emerging space ecosystem, and assist government and industry leaders in decision-making as new space firms and capabilities create new options and alternatives. In addition, the report will be a resource for commercial space ventures that seek investors. The report and the project on which Start-Up Space is based were funded in part through a research grant from the Emerging Space Office located at NASA Ames Research Center in support of the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters.

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