Shoot for the Moon

One of our commenters was kind enough to suggest the following idea, thought I’d promote it to a post.

From: gandalfprod / EricD.

As Duncan opened the door to a next start-up idea, well, let’s think about the impossible (well, I guess you were told it was impossible for the last startup too…).

In the last years, there is a shift happening into space travel – instead of funding large national agency (ESA, NASA, etc), a few small companies have been fairly innovative and enabled to raise a fairly large amount of capital through those tough times. It would BTW be expected a fairly important of innovations will come from them –
– SpaceX – an other $50M end of 2011 on top of what has been raised before,http://www.space.com/news/spacex-commercial-space-investment-101111.html
– VirginGalatics (http://www.virgingalactic.com) , The Spaceship Company (http://www.thespaceshipcompany.com/)

Well… solar-cell engines might be the next challenge… and there is still plenty of software to write to get them to work well. Impossible?

This seems like one of those hard-to-judge-rationally areas 🙂

We really have no idea how big the market for space flight at a given price would be.

We don’t know how technically practical solar-cell engines would be.

Perhaps the best way to pursue such an idea would be to build a startup to act as a technology supplier to some of the vendors of space craft or space-craft-components?

Plainly, the challenges include – sizing the technical challenge, and getting the right team, in what may be a very specialist area; only a handful of potential customers; uncertain end-market demand; government/regulatory/disaster uncertainty. Perhaps this is one that someone would pursue more for love than money?

On the other hand, specialist producers of very-specifically-targeted technologies can be great (very profitable) businesses; Germany seems to have a special talent for them: printing presses (Koenig & Bauer), licence plates (Utsch), snuff (Pöschl), shaving brushes (Mühle), flycatchers (Aeroxon), industrial chains (RUD) and high-pressure cleaners (Kärcher). [Via: The Economist]

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Shoot for the Moon

  1. paulsbridges

    D, perhaps I should remind you of your initial criteria:
    – Aims at a substantial problem, a market that can become huge
    – Addresses a creatively challenging yet achievable solution/technology
    – Fun to build, fun to have built
    I think the last part of 3 is met… er… maybe. I think the key word here is ‘achievable’ – not meaning to burst the space bubble, but you’re talking about the world of massive, multi-disciplined engineering challenge combined with significant safety risk… say after me in a strong Scottish accent: ‘It’s a potential (PR) disaster…’

  2. Yes, the disaster problem is a problem… But, as you suggest, the potentially intractable technical challenges, and the size of the market (tiny by volume, even if significant by $ – which is not known), seem worse to me.

  3. mcale

    You’re such a kill-joy, Paul.

  4. paulsbridges

    In my opinion, the best engineers often are… as long as it isn’t pessimism (someone once told me that if you bring an idea to a bunch of American engineers, they’ll give you a dozen reasons why it’ll work, whereas a bunch of English engineers will tell you why it won’t – OK, so it’s not stereotyped like that in reality, but you need both types on your team) – so on this occasion I’ll take that as a compliment!