Sunday, April 30, 2006

All Hat, No Cattle

I've decided to do this as a new posting, but would like to give credit where it is due for the starting thought - the previous posting which looked at why/how a company morphs into TransConX (insert name here) from a championed space startup...

First off: Hi back at you, Monty!

Now, to the matter at hand - what makes a company a "white hat" vs. a "black hat" in the minds of the community?

I don't pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, but i will make a few observations on the matter, which you may agree or disagree with.

White hat companies seem to fall into two categories in the community: true seed-stage startups funded by believers in their particular cause (space solar power, RLV, space elevators, etc), and "startups" being driven by well-heeled investors that are tackling a specific segment of the market (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites, Bigelow, etc).

Black hat companies, also referred to at various times as the Military/Industrial Complex, Big Aerospace, or just Satan, are large established aerospace companies (Boeing, LockMart, NG, etc) which are considered behemoths, ossified, in the way, and generally the primary reason why the White Hats aren't successful - that if they would simply get out of the way, not take all of the government funding, etc., the White Hats would prove and develop a robust private sector commercial space economy for the masses.

Interesting concept.

Apparently, you can go from being a White Hat to a Black Hat in a not-very-easy-to-understand process, as Orbital Sciences has done. I've yet to hear of a Black Hat becoming a White Hat, though. Anyone?

And yet, i have to wonder: it seems as if the underlying prerequisite for becoming a "black hat" is that you are either (a) large, established, and not living off credit cards in your mom's basement, or (b) not backed by a rock-star dot Com bazzilllionaire, or (c) surviving primarily on government largesse (read: contracts).

So here's the question for those following along: how many of the White Hats are either currently the recipient of government funding or loan guarantees of some sort? How many White Hats (and WHSs - white hat supporters) are lobbying for more government money to flow in the direction of the alt.spacers?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Journal of Irreproducible Results

There's a great publication, the Journal of Irreproducible Results, which bills itself as "The fact-filled, fun-filled, thoughtful science humor magazine".

For those who are unfamiliar with the JIR, it is a magazine which has a go at the more dubious claims coming out of the scientific community. Hence the title.

Here's what Omni magazine has to say about JIR:

"There are few outlets in the world where scientists with a sense of humor can poke fun at themselves and publish theoretical breakthroughs. The finest one today is the Journal of Irreproducible Results."

So what? you might ask.

Well, today i had the pleasure of stumbling across a new publication which at first I thought must be satire, but in fact appears to be serious. In fact, the tagline reads "the world's 1st monthly magazine focusing on Space Tourism and Commercialization!"

Of course, there is no option to actually VIEW a bit of the content in advance, before deciding if one might want to subscribe to this publication. I'm almost tempted to sign up for it anyways - at a bit over $8/issue, it's pricey for something which I would be hard-pressed to believe could run more than 4 pages (after all, how much can you write about a non-existant business on a recurring monthly basis? Wait. Scratch that...)

I'd be particularly interested in seeing the questions on this topic:
"In addition each issue (starting with the May issue) of the magazine includes an educational space tourism quiz !!"

Exciting times.

I just wonder if they recall that little, well funded publication known as "Space Illustrated"?

Feel free to click on the link under the google sponsored ad - that way we too can say we are making money off an idea ;-)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Space Tragic (definition)

Space Tragic - n. someone who passionately believes in the long term development of space, and desperately wants to go to space for him/her self. often confused with an, who believes in the viability of commercial space development by the private sector, if only (a)big government would get out of the way, and (b) investors would just see the obvious value of their great project.

Walking Eagle Award Nominations

Now open.

Name of Company and/or Individual, along with category of venture (tourism, space solar power, lunar mining, etc) is all that is required.

Winners will be announced after ISDC.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cynic or Critic?

I think this new blog is a great idea - thanks, Shubber, for starting it and inviting us to participate. I'm already out there blogging on a variety of other issues, so I look forward to sharing views with some of my good friends on the seemingly interminable challenges involved in getting people into space in our lifetimes.

For a long time now, as many of you know, I've been working on the concept of a "populist" funding mechanism to get some projects going and expand the enabling business infrastructure. At this point I have to admit I've also drunk the kool-aid to some extent. The core premise was that so-called "new space" companies had a lot of great engineering and business concepts that were being ignored by VCs, institutions, and Wall Street in general - ergo, We the People would bypass those old stodgy institutions and create something new.

Turns out Wall Street may have been looking at this industry after all, and came to some conclusions. After spending several years of my own life looking under the hood, I came to the very reluctant conclusion, myself, that most of these firms, while filled to the brim with incredible engineering talent, were sadly lacking when it comes to business principles and planning.

The entire New Space premise seems to be "build it and they will come" - but not enough building is happening, and, predictably, no one is coming. No one seems to accept that we're about 25 years behind Silicon Valley and there's at least that much work to do. There's no other option but to roll up our sleeves and do it, however long it takes. There will be no shortcuts.

So, in this forum, I consider myself more of a critic than a cynic - I want new things to happen in space, but I'm highly critical at this point of the business skills of the new crop of "" entrepreneurs. I intend to hold their feet to the fire from here on in.

Many decry the insider status of NASA/DoD contractors exemplified by the term "BoLockNor", but it seems that several are jockeying simply to be the next generation of contractors, as opposed to being true space-commercial entrepreneurs. If they succeed, good for them, but everyone else, 20 years from now, will be railing against "TransConX". What does that do for our children and grandchildren, to work hard simply so that a fortunate few can be the last guys in the Country Club?



Space Tragic.

This is the term - so aptly used in Australia - which conveys its meaning without the need for any subsequent definition. You know if you are a space tragic.

And yet, the seemingly simple question: why? or, perhaps more elaborately:

  • why am I a "space cynic"?

  • why do i bother with the community if I am so cynical?

  • why do i feel the need to "attack" other space project ideas?

  • (the list goes on)

actually doesn't have a simple answer.

There are a number of reasons why I'm both passionate about space and at the same time cynical about it. Those who know me, or have had the misfortune of seeing me speak at various space conferences around the world, already have a pretty good idea of my views on space development, and the seemingly unending parade of space projects that are forever being "unveiled" to the public and investor communities.

I suppose the true answer will become clearer over time as i post to this blog.

Perhaps some of you will find it of interest - many of you may disagree with some or all of what I write, which is certainly your right. And maybe some of you will benefit from the discussions and postings to this blog - either through making/changing a career choice, or perhaps rethinking an investment decision - in which case I believe i will have achieved my goal.