Friday, February 25, 2011

How are you going to fund your GLXP entry?

Note: this post originally appeared on the Team Phoenicia official GLXP blog yesterday.


We often get asked the question: how are you going to pay for getting something to the moon? After all, space exploration is expensive. Traditionally, it's astronomical in price. A single launch can range in cost form $50 million to $250 million depending on the launcher selected. Space rated hardware is really, really expensive. People time is really, really, really expensive. So how is Team Phoenicia have a snowball's chance on Venus of getting it done? There are three different methods, actually, that we are using: sponsorship, contracting and tech development.


We jokingly call sponsorship "NASCAR rocketry." We offer up promotion of our sponsors in exchange for in-kind or monetary sponsorship. Truthfully, we have mostly secured in-kind sponsorship, but a lot (!) of it. Embedded computers, raw materials, access to machinery, software, LOX and more have all been kindly given to us, just to name a few. We promote, in turn, our sponsors through our presentations at conferences, through our website and blog, and through what we have been calling 'tank tattoos' on our lander. This will continue on our rover as well.

We have have had outstanding support from the sponsors that we have garnered already. Wind River and Airgas have been the largest of them, but we have several smaller ones. One of the most notable of those has been TechShop which has allowed the team to do our manufacturing, allowed us to network into Silicon Valley, and bounce ideas off its incredible community.

To get a sponsor, though, is a lot of work. Normally, we do around twenty presentations for every single sponsor we amass. Even then, it takes a lot of work to get that one sponsor. You are looking at hundreds of man-hours for one successful sponsorship. There are a lot of strike outs and sometimes long barren deserts of lacking even the fleeting mirage of hope. It can be very frustrating, but, truth be told, it just takes pounding the pavement and a fierce determination and indomitable will.

Sponsorship will cover the majority of our GLXP entry's costs. And we are getting very, very close to that.

We have more sponsorships in the making, but we - and they - are not quite ready to make the announcements just yet.


One of the interesting things that happened to us while we were working on our GLXP entry was the episode that we have called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Launch Pad." This is where we were asked to team to enter into NASA's Nanosatellite Launcher Challenge. We declined to participate, but ended up bending metal for three teams so far. Those contracts come in phases (lunar lander challenge equivalent rocket, high altitude/high speed rocket. and two orbital shot rockets per contract). We are not taking salaries for this, but rather funneling the funds into our efforts for the GLXP.

We have remarked that we have become the Boeing of the Bay, so to speak and our clients are the airlines, erm, nanosat spacelines. We do have more capacity and are seeking out more clients. We do have some significant requirements though for those that may be interested. Contact us via our website. Rockets are NOT for the faint of hear though.

We expect around 15% to 20% of our ultimate budget will come from this sort of work.

Spin-outs and Licensing

Team Phoenicia started out by working on our technologies that we thought we would need to get to the Moon. We have delved successfully into composites, for example, and we are taking this to market. It turns out that - *gasp*shock* - that if you develop technologies or other things that others want, they will pay for them. While this isn't contracting directly, others will pay a lot for things that you have put a lot of brow sweat into. Investors and venture capitalists in the SF Bay Area are skeptical - to say the least! - of the GLXP directly, but are more than willing to invest in companies that deal with the intellectual property that the team has developed if it is properly insulated from the risk that the GLXP represents. We have done so and now are working through those deals.

We expect that the amount brought in through licensing and the technology spin-outs will cover approximately the same amount as contracting work.


Unfortunately, it is very hard to just sell the dream. Companies and investors want to get back an order of magnitude more than they put in. You need to make what investors want to put their money into before they will hand over that cash. A lunar business may be doable. However, the spin-outs and technology development can be made to pay. Make what people want and the money will come. Whether its a new composite with enormous potential or rockets that allow others to pursue their own ambitions or power subsystems that will make an huge "green" difference or marketable promotions, all of it has direct applicability to our GLXP bid and all of it has potential beyond our bid.

So how are we going to pay for our lunar gig? By hard work, some innovation, and deft handling of funding sources is how.

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