Commercial space operations seeing big cash infusion

Commercial space investments hit $1.46 billion a 20% growth since 2008, study finds

While there are still tons of economic problems around the globe, the commercial space industry seems to be avoiding at least some of those bumps as a new study shows the total investment in that industry has risen by 20% since January 2008, reaching a total of $1.46 billion. 

While that number may be modest considering some of the billions this country has tossed into bailing out banks and fighting two wars, the commercial space race is quietly warming up.

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The study, done by researchers at the Tauri Group and commissioned by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said revenues and deposits for commercial human spaceflight services, hardware, and support services has also grown, reaching a total of $261 million for the year 2008. 

The Federation says that when you combine NASA, other government agencies, and commercial customers, the commercial orbital spaceflight industry is planning over 40 flights to orbit between now and 2014. 

The study was based on a survey of 22 companies engaged in commercial human spaceflight activities, including Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites, Space Adventures and Space X. 

A few choice findings from the study: 

  • Investment of $1.46 billion has been committed to the industry since January 2008, of which approximately $624 million has been spent to date and about $838 million is available. Sources of investment include individuals and angel investors (about 52%), private equity (about 30%), government (about 15%), and corporate reinvestment (about 4%).  According to Tauri, the real highlight is the sizable investment that is not government related. Growing investment from private equity funds and other investors has turned longtime skeptics into people who are taking notice, the group stated.  
  • Commercial spaceflight hardware sales, development, and support services revenue increased to $211M in 2008, compared to $206M in 2007 and $123M in 2006. (This category includes sales of hardware and services directly intended for commercial human spaceflight; sales of commercial human spaceflight-related products and services to customers in other industry sectors; and sales and services that develop technologies and corporate capabilities that can be used for commercial human spaceflight applications.) 
  • Total facility space expanded to 1,180,000 square feet (over 20 football fields) in 2008, compared to 762,100 square feet in 2007. 
  • The commercial human spaceflight industry reached employs  1,186 workers as of 2008. 

There have been other indicators that the commercial space arena could be on the upswing.  Last week the Federal Aviation Administration said it would streamline the environmental review part of permit applications for the launch and/or reentry of reusable suborbital rockets to help bolster a fledgling commercial space market. 

NASA recently said it would partner with the US Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for use of reusable commercial spaceships. The study of reusable launch vehicle or RLVs will focus on identifying technologies and assessing their potential use to accelerate the development of commercial reusable launch vehicles that have improved reliability, availability, launch turn-time, robustness and significantly lower costs than current launch systems, NASA stated.  The study results will provide roadmaps with recommended government technology tasks and milestones for different vehicle categories.

NASA also recently said it would offer $50 million in stimulus money to further develop private commercial spacecraft. NASA said its Commercial Crew and Cargo Program looks to develop and demonstrate safe, reliable, and cost-effective capabilities to transport cargo and eventually crew to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. 

Meanwhile the aerospace consultancy Futron recently said that as much as $1.5 billion may be up for grabs for commercial space operation in the next ten years. 

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